Telus Corp. is seeking permission to appeal several aspects of a recent wireless ruling, arguing that Canada’s telecom regulator overstepped its powers in one area and failed to exercise its authority in another.
The Vancouver-based telecom argues that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) overreached by ordering the national wireless carriers – Bell Canada, Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus – to provide seamless roaming service to regional carriers.
The commission said in its April 15 ruling on Canada’s wireless industry that seamless roaming will benefit consumers by preventing their calls from being dropped when they move from one network to another.
The roaming policy is also expected to foster competition by allowing regional players to offer better-quality service, the CRTC said. Regional competitors include Quebecor Inc.’s Videotron Ltd. , Bragg Communications Inc.’s Eastlink and Shaw Communications Inc.’s Freedom Mobile . (Freedom’s future is in flux following a proposed $20.4-billion merger deal between Shaw and Rogers.)
Telus says in documents filed with the Federal Court of Appeal late last week that it has spent more than $4.5-billion on spectrum licences from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the federal ministry that regulates the airwaves used to carry wireless signals. Those licences carry conditions that stipulate that seamless roaming is not required, according to Telus.
“While seamless roaming is technically possible on 5G technologies, it is subject to major technical challenges and expensive to maintain,” Telus said in court documents. “For example, elements of the two carriers’ networks need to be physically connected in areas where they overlap, and radio sites along the border areas of the respective networks need to be defined for special hand-off.”
Telus also argues that the CRTC erred by concluding, as part of the same wireless review, that it doesn’t have jurisdiction over access to public infrastructure for the purpose of upgrading wireless networks.
The commission said in its decision last month that ISED already has a well-established process for approving new cellular sites, including a municipal consultation process.
However, Telus argues in court documents that the ministry “has no jurisdiction or process under the Radiocommunication Act for granting access to public places or adjudicating disputes relating to access for such infrastructure.”
Accessing infrastructure that is owned by municipal or provincial governments has become a thorny issue as carriers look to install tens of thousands of “small cells” on structures such as lampposts, bus shelters and hydro towers in the race to deploy 5G wireless technology. In some instances the telecoms have faced pushback from local governments, which the carriers argue will delay the rollout of next-generation wireless services.
Telecom consultant Mark Goldberg said the case could lead to greater clarity around the regulation of wireless services.
“It’s a uniquely Canadian issue because we’ve divided wireless between two different agencies,” Mr. Goldberg said. “That’s why these problems come up.”
While the CRTC is responsible for overseeing telecommunications policy, ISED regulates spectrum, the airwaves used to carry wireless signals. In contrast, most countries have a single regulator – for instance, the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, in the United States, or the Office of Communications, known as Ofcom, in Britain.
Telus is not disputing the CRTC’s decision to force the Big Three national carriers and SaskTel to temporarily sell network access to eligible regional competitors who wish to expand their own wireless footprints. The commission stopped short of opening up national wireless networks to competitors without their own infrastructure, known in the industry as mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs.
But earlier this month, Data on Tap Inc., an MVNO branded as dotmobile, asked the federal cabinet to intervene in the CRTC’s ruling. The company is seeking mandated network access for companies that do not have spectrum licences or own and operate radio-access networks.
“Industry analysts, telecom experts, competitive regional providers and even the dominant carriers all recognise that this decision will not have any meaningful, immediate or nation-wide effect on the wireless market,” Algis Akstinas, chief executive officer of Data on Tap, said in a statement. Cabinet has a year from the date of the decision to respond to the company’s appeal.
John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), said Telus’s legal challenge creates uncertainty for regional competitors who may want to access the national carriers’ networks under the CRTC’s new wholesale regime. If the national carriers are not forced to provide seamless roaming then regional competitors will not be able to provide comparable service to their customers, Mr. Lawford said.
“It’s a stick in the spokes of any competitors who want to use that new CRTC decision,” he said.
Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.