Following a landmark ruling two months ago, three small cellular providers have complained to Canada's telecom regulator that the national wireless carriers are trying to set unilateral terms and conditions for wholesale roaming agreements.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said in May that to boost competition in the industry it would step in to regulate the rates that Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp. and BCE Inc. ' s Bell Mobility charge smaller rivals when their customers roam outside their more limited areas of network coverage. (BCE owns 15 per cent of The Globe and Mail.)
The commission plans to set the exact rates after a follow-up process this fall that will analyze the carriers' actual costs, then add a markup.
In the meantime, the CRTC has set a maximum rate of no more than the highest amount the Big Three were charging for text, data and voice services under government caps introduced last year. Those caps limited wholesale costs to no more than what carriers charge at a retail level, and the commission directed the national carriers to file tariffs outlining the maximum rates they were charging under the caps by June 4.
Now, Eastlink Wireless, Wind Mobile Corp. and Quebecor Inc.'s Videotron Ltd. have launched a complaint with the CRTC alleging the tariffs filed by the Big Three have gone beyond just setting out rates and have also included lengthy terms and conditions that should be subject to negotiation.
"Bell and Telus have essentially cut and pasted onerous, prenegotiation versions of their wholesale roaming agreements into their interim tariff pages, along with a confidential rate table," the joint application filed in late June states, adding that "Rogers did not go quite as far" but it did also include terms and conditions "inconsistent with negotiated outcomes with the applicants."
"We filed the application because we were concerned that the incumbents are attempting to insert terms and conditions in their tariffs that would negate the key benefits to consumers in the commission's wholesale roaming decision," Matthew MacLellan, president of Eastlink Wireless, a subsidiary of Bragg Communications Inc., said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday.
The three small players – Eastlink offers wireless service in Atlantic Canada, Videotron in Quebec and Wind Mobile in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta – said in the filing they are concerned the "one-sided nature of these terms" would undo years of negotiations and arbitration proceedings that resulted in terms they have settled on in their existing roaming arrangements with the Big Three.
Eastlink, Videotron and Wind Mobile did not reference specific terms they objected to in the application, but asked the commission to direct the incumbents to refile their tariffs without their preferred versions of the terms governing roaming agreements.
Rogers, Telus and Bell filed separate replies on Monday disputing the claim by the small carriers that the tariffs should not include terms and conditions the CRTC did not specifically reference in its ruling. The national carriers argued such provisions are necessary to make clear each party's expectations as well as rights and obligations under a roaming contract.
In its filing, Telus complained that the applicants "make their assertions but do not point to a single instance of which terms and conditions with which they take issue."
Bell and Telus also asked the commission to confirm that the carriers are permitted to honour pre-existing negotiated roaming agreements and that any terms and conditions in the tariffs would not affect those arrangements. (Rogers similarly indicated its view that pre-existing arrangements remain valid.)
"As required by the CRTC's decision in the wholesale wireless review, we've filed our tariff which will serve to guide future domestic roaming agreement negotiations," Telus spokeswoman Luiza Staniec said in an e-mail.
"In conjunction with our tariff filing, we've requested that our existing, freely negotiated roaming agreements remain in effect."
Eastlink, Videotron and Wind Mobile plan to file a response on Aug. 6.