One of Canada's most-influential business groups is weighing in on the federal telecom regulator's bid to create a mandatory code of conduct for the $19-billion wireless industry.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the lobby group that successfully pushed the Conservative government to crack down on the credit-card industry, is now voicing its opposition to a controversial stance taken by Canada's largest wireless carrier.
Earlier this week, executives from Rogers Communications Inc. told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that new national standards for wireless contracts should only apply to consumer agreements but not commercial and corporate accounts.
It is an exemption, if eventually granted by the federal telecom regulator, that risks leaving some small-business owners out in the cold.
Rogers has more than nine million wireless subscribers across the country.
Although the carrier did not provide a breakdown of its consumer and corporate accounts, it told the CRTC during public hearings on Tuesday that small-business customers could fall into either camp.
"It is disappointing that they would look to exclude small firms from the application of the code," said CFIB president and chief executive officer Dan Kelly.
"Small firms operate a lot more like homeowners than they do big business. This move is particularly worrisome as Rogers is the first telco to dive into mobile payments."
He added: "I hope their plan to work against obligations under the various codes doesn't extend to their partnership with CIBC on mobile payments."
Last year, Rogers and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce announced the first joint agreement on mobile payments, which allows consumers to use some Rogers' smartphones to make credit-card payments at the cash register – rather than having to fumble in their wallets for a plastic card.
Although the proposed wireless code of conduct does not directly address the issue of mobile payments, it does touch on a number of related issues including lost and stolen wireless devices and the collection of personal information .
Draft code proposals also address other thorny issues of interest to small business customers including contract cancellations, the calculation of early termination fees and notification of additional fees.
The wireless code, once finalized, will be enforced by the CRTC and administered by the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services.
For his part, Howard Maker, Canada's Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, has said it remains unclear how mobile payments would fit into the wireless code.
"It is an issue that we are going to come to grips with for sure," Mr. Maker said in a recent interview.
The CFIB, which represents more than 109,000 small business owners across the country, has spent years spearheading efforts to protect small businesses from unfair practices in the credit-card industry.
As a result of its lobby efforts, the federal government introduced a code of conduct for the payments industry in 2010 to stamp out abuses and to beef up the transparency of contracts especially with respect to payment-processing fees.
Just this week, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, which administers the payments industry code, said it was toughening the rules around inappropriate sales and business practices; disclosure to merchants; and multiple contract cancellation penalties.
The CFIB, however, is continuing to urge Ottawa to have the payments code of conduct apply to mobile payments.