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CRTC to investigate wireless roaming rates

CANADA'S big wireless companies are coming under scrutiny for how much they charge their small competitors such as Wind Mobile, Mobilicity, Videotron and Eastlink to use their networks.

The federal telecom regulator wants to know if big players are putting these small players at an unfair disadvantage with the wholesale roaming rates they charge.

Some of the larger companies are charging -- or want to charge -- the small carriers "significantly" higher wholesale roaming rates than they charge wireless companies in the United States, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said Thursday.

Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said the CRTC has a "duty" to make sure there isn't any "unjust discrimination" and added the CRTC has the authority to rectify the situation.

As a result, the regulator will look at wholsale rates charged by Rogers, Bell and Telus as well as established regional players like MTS Allstream, Bell Aliant and SaskTel. The small carriers rely on the larger telecom companies to offer their local customers national cellphone coverage, Blais said in an interview from Gatineau, Que.

"It is to make sure that people have a fair chance to compete for subscribers in the marketplace," he said. "You never know where your business and residential customers may be travelling in Canada."

The wholesale rates the small carriers are charged can impact the rates they charge their customers, he added.

Canada's telecom industry has been in the crosshairs of the federal government, which wants more competition and more choice for consumers.

The end result could be more regulation for the industry.

The CRTC said that in early 2014 it will look at the state of the wireless industry and "what regulatory measures may be required if the CRTC were to find the market is not sufficiently competitive."

The regulator is already looking at roaming rates paid by cellphone users when they're travelling in Canada and the United States and is considering possible regulations as a result of consumer complaints. But Rogers, Bell and Telus have already lowered their international roaming rates.

Blais said much of the information the CRTC will collect on how much established telecom companies charge small competitors for roaming will remain confidential because they're commercial agreements.

Ottawa has said it wants more competition for cellphone services and consumers to have more choice in picking their TV channels. The federal government has also said it want improvements in high-speed Internet services for rural communities.

A Rogers spokeswoman defended the company's practices in an email.

"All of our roaming agreements with domestic carriers are based on negotiated, mutually agreed-upon rates," Patricia Trott said.

-- The Canadian Press

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