Big relief: Cellphone unlocking charges and unreadable contracts are banned now.

Cellphone unlocking fees are no longer allowed in Canada, making it easier to swap out a SIM card when you travel and ensuring your new phone arrives unlocked.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission announced new terms to the Wireless Code of Conduct in June, after hearings in February in which consumers complained about unexpected charges and unclear terms of service. Those changes took effect Dec. 1.

One of the most significant changes in the new rules is elimination of the unpopular charge for unlocking the phone.That means new phones that come with a wireless package should come to you unlocked, and you can take your phone easily to a competitor’s network if you want to change carriers.

This is particularly helpful when travelling in other countries, so you can swap out your SIM card and use one from a local carrier without an unlocking fee.

The other big breakthrough involves new rules about consenting to data overage. On shared family plans, only the wireless account holder, not just any device holder, can consent to extra data or roaming charges.This should end parents’ pain of a teenage son or daughter agreeing to extra data for streaming or remote use of the cellphone without regard to the cost.

About one-third of complaints about wireless bills involved data charges, the CRTC found in a 2016 survey, and another 23 per cent of people who complained believed their cellphone contract was misleading.

In hearings earlier this year, John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said the code is toothless unless it can be enforced. The CRTC has introduced a trial period for cellphone contracts. Customers now have 15 days to try a package and, if they’re not happy with the service, they can cancel if they haven’t exceeded 50 per cent of their monthly usage limit and if the phone is returned in near-new condition.

Other parts of the code of conduct were updated with the intention of helping consumers understand the terms of their contract. Misleading terms of service are among the most common complaints filed.

The new rules say:

  • Contracts must be in plain language.
  • The service provider must give a permanent electronic or paper copy of the contract, whichever the customer prefers.
  • The contract must clearly spell out minimum monthly charges and optional charges.
  • There must be a tool for customers to determine how much data they are using and potential roaming costs.