Carriers prepare for fight with CRTC on roaming, wireless code

As organizations increasingly shift to letting staff bring their own mobile devices, carrier policies and pricing of devices and plans becomes increasingly important.

That’s putting the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the national telecom regulator, in the cross-hairs of carriers as the new chairman of the agency tries to flex its muscles.

In the latest move, the country’s biggest carriers are resisting the commission’s attempts to look into international and domestic roaming charges and establish a new wireless code that effectively ends three-year contracts.

The CRTC has asked carriers to give it information about their roaming policies, which has raised eyebrows because the commission’s policy until now has been to stay out of regulating wireless rates.

But in their just-released filings some carriers have taken the opportunity to tell the regulator to keep its hands off.

In its submission BCE Inc., which owns Bell Canada, noted that as far back as 1984 commission concluded that market forces should govern wireless services. In 1994 it officially decided to leave cellular industry pricing alone, a decision that was reaffirmed less than a year ago, Bell noted, because “the market remains competitive and that exercising oversight of wireless rates, terms, and agreements is not necessary.”

As a result, the commission’s information request is unnecessary, Bell says. Still, it submitted internal figures it deems competitive confidentially, as did all carriers.

“Canadians benefit from easy to access and competitive U.S. roaming options, including flat-rates, preferred rates, daily and monthly add-ons, and plans that including roaming at no additional cost,” Bell concluded from its own data.

“The retail rates paid by Canadian consumers for U.S. roaming are consistent with or lower than the rates paid by U.S. consumers, and Bell Mobility’s net profit margin on U.S. roaming is (the number is blanked out in the publicly-available version). Bell Mobility’s international roaming rates are clearly reasonable.”

The commission, which said it is looking into the competitiveness of the wireless industry in part because of complaints such as reports from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), hasn’t decided yet if it will hold a public hearing.

However, in its submission Telus Corp. noted the commission turned down PIAC’s request at the time for a separate hearing on roaming charges. Like Bell, it notes that it was only last October that the commission decided that there is enough cellular competition and therefore no need to regulate. However, as part of that decision the CRTC also decided the industry needs a wireless code on contract terms.

In effect, both carriers are telling the commission it will have to explain what has suddenly changed in the last year if it wants to regulate roaming charges.

Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail reports that Bell, Rogers Communications, SaskTel, Manitba Telecom and Telus Corp. have been given approval by the Federal Court of Appeal to fight the CRTC’s new wireless code.

The code tells carriers they have to amoritize the price of subsidized handsets over no more than two years starting Dec. 2. It effectively ends three-year contracts that some allege are a big money-maker for the operators by luring customers with deep discounts on the devices.

The carriers are fighting part of the code that means it also is retroactive to contracts subscribers signed before Dec. 2.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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