Making Cellphone Service More Affordable through Wi-Fi First Networks

Backgrounder

The Government of Canada is taking action in favour of affordable cellphone service for Canadians, who pay some of world’s highest prices, especially for low-usage plans.

The Government is directing the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which regulates the industry, to reconsider a decision that has effectively prevented certain low-cost plans from being offered to Canadian consumers.

These discount plans, offered by Wi-Fi-based service providers, primarily route phone calls, texts and data through Wi-Fi networks. They depend far less on commercial wireless networks, which are only used if Wi-Fi is not available. Typically, customers only roam on another carrier’s network when they are between Wi-Fi connections.

On March 1, 2017, the CRTC issued a decision that excludes Wi-Fi-based providers from access to regulated roaming on commercial wireless networks owned by large carriers. The CRTC’s decision defined the terms and conditions under which smaller providers could roam on networks owned by larger carriers. Under CRTC rules, all wireless service providers are required to operate on a primary network, also known as a “home network,” so that they do not rely completely on roaming. The CRTC decision ruled that Wi-Fi networks cannot be considered “home networks.” The result is that Wi-Fi-based service providers do not have access to regulated roaming rates, effectively preventing their development.

In asking the CRTC to review its decision, the Government directs the regulator to explore how a Wi-Fi first model could lead to more affordable plans for Canadians. The Government is also asking the CRTC to consider any potentially negative impacts on investment in wireless infrastructure and ways to mitigate those impacts.

The CRTC must complete its review by March 31, 2018.


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