A holiday gift for new wireless entrants

The day before Toronto’s Santa Claus parade, a special package was delivered to Rogers Communications Inc.

Unfortunately for management, it was not a gift for them. Rather it was one for the four new wireless carriers that have gone into business in the past year – Wind Mobile, Mobilicity, Public Mobile and Videotron.

Melanie Aitken, the federal commissioner of competition, informed Rogers on Friday  that certain claims in the advertising campaign of its entry-level Chatr wireless service were, shall we say, not in the holiday spirit.

Rogers has been claiming Chatr users will have “fewer dropped calls than new wireless carriers” and have “no worries about dropped calls.” But after what it said was “an extensive review of technical data, obtained from a number of sources,” the competition bureau concluded “there is no discernible difference in dropped call rates between Rogers/Chatr and new entrants.”

So it is asking an Ontario judge to order Rogers to immediately stop making such claims, pay a $10 million administrative fine and (somehow) pay restitution to affected customers.

Publicity like this is not what Rogers wants in the lead-up to one of the biggest selling periods of every year. No matter how stoutly the carrier defends itself, for the time being the word is out that –for the time being — no carrier can claim its signals are better than another’s. Faster customer service, wider network, cheaper roaming, maybe.

Of course, Rogers is innocent until found guilty and at the end of the day may triumph. But it won’t be before Xmas.
Small coincidences: The Competition Bureau is an independent agency, but administratively comes under Industry Minister Tony Clement, who approved the rules of the 2008 spectrum auction that allowed new entrants to get into the wireless business.  In her decision  Aitken said the auction “was intended to enhance competition in the wireless sector … “New entrants attempting to gain a foothold in the market should not be discredited by misleading claims made by their competitors.”

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