Canadian Big Wireless Firms Must Sell Access To Competitors

Regulators in Canada issued new rules to bring down wireless costs, forcing large carriers including BCE and Rogers Communications to offer low-cost plans and resell access to their networks to smaller players.

The decision by the country’s telecommunications regulator makes it easier for regional providers such as Quebecor and Cogeco Communications to compete on wireless plans with the sector’s three dominant companies — Rogers, BCE, and Telus Corp.

Only companies that already own spectrum in Canada will be eligible, cutting out foreign players that can’t enter the market because of domestic ownership rules. The “mobile virtual network operator” ruling was released Thursday, April 15, by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

The CRTC is also ordering the dominant carriers to sell lower-cost plans. By July, Bell, Telus, and Rogers will be expected to “offer and promote” wireless plans for CA$35 (US$28) a month that include 3 gigabytes of data and unlimited messaging within Canada. They must also offer cut-rate plans for people who don’t use their phones much for CA$15 a month. The rules also apply to Saskatchewan Telecommunications Holding, or SaskTel, a government-owned telecom in the western province.

“While there are encouraging signs that prices are trending downwards, we need to accelerate competition and more affordable options for Canadians,” CRTC Chairman Ian Scott said in a statement. “The competitive model we are introducing today will result in greater choice and cheaper mobile wireless services for Canadians, who rely on their smartphones now more than ever.”

The CRTC also stated the major telecom companies may negotiate directly with resellers of wired internet service, instead of the regulator mandating a specific price. This comes after a 2019 ruling that cut wholesale rates.

That part is a win for the national carriers, which have said the new rates were below cost and could jeopardize future spending on networks, resulting in slower expansion of broadband into remote or rural areas. The federal government agreed with them, and asked the CRTC to review its decision.