Canada Seeks Changes in Telecoms Act to Pave Way for Increased Foreign Ownership

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | December 19, 2013 1:04 PM EST

Canada is set to introduce changes in its Telecommunications Act in 2014 that will lift restrictions and pave the way for increased foreign ownership in the sector.

"We have liberalized in the past, it's certainly something I know people are calling for, and it's not something that we're ruling out," James Moore, Canadian Industry Minister, told Bloomberg.

A woman talks on her mobile phone as the rain begins to fall in New York November 26, 2013. A powerful winter storm dumped heavy rain and snow over much of the eastern United States on Tuesday, threatening to snarl travel plans for millions over the busy Thanksgiving holiday, forecasters said. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

On Wednesday, Canadian federal government announced it will introduce legislation that will cap the roaming rates being charged by the nation's bigger wireless providers over their smaller competitors.

"We think sending this important signal today more than a month ahead of the 700 (MHz) auction, ahead of the 2300 and 3500 auctions that are coming as well, that the status quo is not going to continue and that the gap between wholesale and retail is not appropriate and not conducive to greater competition for consumers," Mr Moore told Reuters.

Customers are charged with roaming fees when they use their wireless units outside their provider's coverage area.

He admitted the scheme meant to encourage and enhance competition in the Canadian telecoms marketplace. "That's the ultimate goal of our policy."

"We're essentially saying the status quo can't continue, that the gap that exists between wholesale and retail wireless rates is something that hurts consumers by hurting competition," Mr Moore said.

Planned tweaks to the Canadian Telecommunications Act include disallowing wireless providers to charge other companies more than they charge their own customers for roaming mobile voice, data and text services.

Patricia Trott, a spokeswoman from Rogers Communications Inc., said roaming agreements between carriers in Canada "are based on negotiated, mutually agreed upon rates."

"Government policy includes an arbitration process that all carriers are entitled to use, but these carriers have chosen not to go to arbitration," Ms Trott added.

Mr Moore said the measure remain in effect until the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) completes a review on the matter. It is expected to release a decision defining whether to set limits or not on roaming rates.

Mr Moore flaunted the possibility of a fourth national wireless player in Canada.

"We do have fourth players in many markets of this country, but they're regional and not national. I think more competition can be realized."

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