Exclusive: Ottawa to help telecom regulator defend new wireless code

Wed May 7, 2014 5:27pm EDT
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By Louise Egan and Alastair Sharp

OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian government has decided to intervene in a court case to argue that new rules for the country's wireless providers should be retroactive, possibly reducing the chance telecom companies have of winning an appeal against the measure.

It is the first sign that the Conservative federal government will fight in the courts to protect the new wireless code's implementation, underscoring its determination to stoke competition in the sector.

Canada's biggest wireless operators, including BCE Inc, Rogers Communications, and Telus Corp, had sought legal recourse against aspects of the code from the telecoms regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

The companies got the upper hand last week after a judge ruled that CRTC could not argue its own case in court, which it had done in the absence of government lawyers getting involved.

In response, Industry Minister James Moore has requested that the attorney general act as an intervener in the case at the Federal Court of Appeal, Moore's spokesman Jake Enwright told Reuters on Wednesday.

"We support the CRTC's decision to apply the Wireless Code retroactively. Our government will intervene in this case on behalf of Canadian wireless consumers to ensure that their voices are heard," Enwright said.

The code came into force last December, making it harder for carriers to charge customers for early cancellation of their contracts. All existing wireless contracts need to comply no later than June 3 next year.

Applying the code to existing contracts by mid-2015 would likely dissuade carriers from otherwise tying customers to longer-term contracts before the deadline.   Continued...