Rogers Communications rapped for unfair roaming deals

TORONTO, July 31 Thu Jul 31, 2014 2:51pm EDT

TORONTO, July 31 (Reuters) - Canada's largest wireless company, Rogers Communications Inc, used exclusivity clauses and high rates in the roaming agreements it signed with new wireless entrants to unfairly discriminate against them, the country's telecom regulator said on Thursday.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said it would prohibit such provisions, and that a new law has already forced rates to come down.

"Competition in the wireless industry benefits society and the economy by providing innovative communications services at reasonable prices. But that is only the case when true and sustainable competition is at play," CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in a statement.

The CRTC also said that Rogers charged some new operators much higher roaming rates than it offered for other providers, including U.S.-based providers.

Roaming refers to the practice of a wireless operator's customers making use of other company's network when outside the reach of their home carrier's network.

It can be a one-way agreement in which a smaller operator pays in order to offer broader coverage, or a two-way deal in which similar-sized operators more or less swap access to areas where only one of them has physical infrastructure.

Small new entrants such as Wind Mobile had to build a network from scratch after buying spectrum in a 2008 auction, and made technical decisions that meant Rogers was the only viable roaming partner.

Rogers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

The CRTC does not currently approve of the wireless roaming rates providers agree between themselves, but will consider doing so when it hold a public hearing on wholesale rates and the broader state of competition in wireless in late September.

The CRTC decided not to impose a penalty on Rogers given a new law that caps wholesale roaming rates and pending the September hearing. (Editing by Grant McCool)