Imprisoned By A Cellphone Contract

By:  Rachel Marsden

Every time I see an advertisement featuring one of a certain cellphone company's trademark animals, I now get the sudden urge to jam my phone up the critter's fuzzy little booty.

Only 28 days after renewing my cellphone contract, I found out that a new job requires me to relocate to a part of the world that the company -- Telus Mobility, in this case -- doesn't serve. I returned my phone and paperwork to the point of purchase, and was told that I would be charged a termination fee equal to $20 per month for each month left on my contract. In my case, that would be a whopping $700.

Here I thought I was terminating a cellphone contract, not posting bail.

I spent over an hour in the store trying to work out some kind of a reasonable compromise, before being put through to the customer loyalty and retention department. The best they could do for me -- a longtime, loyal customer and recipient of many free calendars, chocolate vouchers and coupons -- was suggest that I transfer my plan to someone else (if I could locate one of the three people on the planet who don't own a cellphone, I suppose), or cough up the $700.

Speaking with family and friends over the holidays, I found that this is a common occurrence. While, for example, many fitness centres routinely allow easy, penalty-free termination of service if you move outside of their area, cellphone companies don't. (Telus did call back to point out no contract is necessary and the kill fee is in the contract.)

Bell Mobility has a similar cancellation policy to Telus, except that theirs is capped at $400. Rogers and Fido cap theirs at $200.

Why such a discrepancy? I dialed up Telus on my digital albatross and posed that question to the company's spokesman, Shawn Hall, who said that the "cancellation charges are a genuine reflection of upfront costs."

Apparently, it costs them $700 for me not to use my cellphone.

So what would it take for them to waive the termination fee, or at least reduce it to something less ludicrous?

I asked Hall: "Let's say a Canadian soldier, who happens to be a Telus customer, has to take off and go over to Afghanistan to put his life on the line for our country. Will Telus leave him on the hook for the balance of his cellphone contract?"

Hall's initial response: "Good question." He then said he'd call me back.

Getting back to me later, Hall explained that "(Telus) will, on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, let you out of a contract," but added that the assessment would be made on a case-by-case basis. He offered the example of a woman who lost the use of her hands. (What? Wasn't a hands-free kit available?)

I bit my tongue hard enough to refrain from asking, "So are you telling me that it really does cost an arm -- or both hands -- to get out of a cellphone contract?"

What about the soldier going to Afghanistan? Hall explained he may be exempt, but again, each case would have to be assessed independently.

Sounds like the CRTC should stop worrying about the number of Celine Dion songs on our radio airwaves, and start hammering out a Cellphone Consumer's Bill Of Rights.

If it takes going to war or getting your hands chopped off in order to get fair treatment from cellphone companies in this country, then I think something is a tad bit off.