Canada tells CRTC to review ruling on Wi-Fi-based providers

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government said on Monday it was directing the country’s telecommunications regulator to reconsider a recent decision it says excludes Wi-Fi-based providers from broadening their access via other companies.

Federal Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Navdeep Bains, speaks in Toronto, December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said in a speech a decision made by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in March effectively prevents such providers from offering their low-cost plans.

The CRTC ruled then that wireless startup Sugar Mobile, an affiliate of Ice Wireless, could not continue to use Rogers Communications Inc’s network to keep customers connected outside the reach of Sugar’s wireless network.

The CRTC ruling said that Ice Wireless had improperly allowed Sugar users to obtain permanent access to Rogers’ cell network. The regulator also said in a simultaneous decision that mandated wholesale roaming agreements between companies provide incidental, not permanent, access to cell networks.

Critics said at the time the decision was a blow to low-income Canadians. The system in which Wi-Fi is the first point of online access can be cheaper than standard cell phone services.

Bains told the Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto the Wi-Fi-based model could benefit Canadian consumers, particularly those who are less well-off.

“This lack of choice does not benefit Canadians,” Bains said. “For this reason, I am directing the CRTC to rethink its decision and reconsider the Wi-Fi first model.”

Bains said he was asking the regulator to launch a new examination of the subject.

Shares of Rogers were little changed, recently trading at C$63.22.

Advocacy group OpenMedia said it was “excited” that the CRTC will revisit the issue.

“Allowing smaller providers to enter the market will improve innovation, encourage competition and enable low-income Canadians to participate more fully and meaningfully in our digital society,” OpenMedia’s Katy Anderson said in a statement.

The government is also launching a public consultation on releasing spectrum to support the development of fifth generation, or 5G, wireless networks, Bains said, though he did not specify a timeline.

5G networks are expected to have higher speeds and more capacity. The 5G market is expected to be worth C$36 billion ($26.68 billion) globally by 2020, Bains said.

Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by W Simon