Rogers wireless roaming rates discriminatory, CRTC says

Canada's telecom regulator has banned exclusive wireless roaming deals in Canada after finding that Rogers included unfair clauses in them that hiked the cost of doing business for new entrants and customers.
The CRTC has banned cellphone companies from including any exclusivity provisions on roaming deals from now on. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Canada's telecom regulator has banned exclusive wireless roaming deals in Canada after finding that Rogers included unfair clauses in some of theirs that hiked the cost of doing business for new telecom entrants — leading to higher prices and worse service for customers.

Roaming allows the customers of wireless companies to automatically maintain cellular coverage when they travel in areas outside the range of their home carrier and into the networks of rival companies. Typically, wireless companies iron out agreements in advance for how much they will each pay each other for this service, so that customers aren't interrupted when they travel.

In a document posted on its website Thursday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled that Rogers imposed exclusivity clauses in roaming agreements that prohibited smaller rivals from granting their customers access to other carriers' networks. They also charged those smaller companies significantly higher roaming rates compared to rates they charged to their other, more established rivals.

Those two actions would combine to hike the cost of doing business for an upstart Rogers rival such as Wind Mobile, Mobilicity and Public Mobile, and also give customers of those companies inferior coverage when they travel outside their home network areas.

Higher costs

Those new entrants had to build their networks from scratch in recent years, so often rely on piggybacking on larger existing networks to ensure their customers maintain coverage.

"Competition in the wireless industry benefits society and the economy by providing innovative communications services at reasonable prices," CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais said in a statement. "But that is only the case when true and sustainable competition is at play. Today's decision will help promote fairness and a better consumer experience with wireless for Canadians."

Rogers hasn't been assigned any sort of penalty in the matter, but the CRTC now says all wireless companies are now prohibited from implementing similar exclusivity provisions when drafting wholesale roaming agreements between themselves in Canada.

New rules for the industry implemented just last month dictate that roaming deals from now on must include a formula that service providers must use to calculate caps for wholesale roaming rates.

The ruling is related to an upcoming set of hearings on industry-wide wholesale roaming rates at the end of September. Those meetings could lead to a hard cap on rates, something the regulator has thus far been reluctant to wade into.

"We believe it is possible, but hard to predict, that the government could step in and mandate even further reductions in domestic roaming rates before the CRTC completes its review," TD's telecom analyst Vince Valentini said in a note to clients.

The decision also opens the door to Rogers having to redo the various wholesale roaming rate agreements it currently has in place.

Rogers did not immediately respond to a CBC News request for comment.


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