Decision on mobile wireless services

Backgrounder

Regulation of mobile wireless services

In 2015, the CRTC established a regulatory framework requiring Bell Mobility, Rogers and Telus to provide wholesale roaming services at rates set by the CRTC.

In 2016, the Commission made access to mobile wireless voice and Internet services part of a nation-wide service objective for telecommunications services. It also took steps, in 2018, to make lower-cost data only plans widely available to Canadians and it finalized wholesale roaming rates.

The CRTC created the Wireless Code in 2013 which sets out the rights of consumers and the rules wireless service providers must follow. The Code was reviewed in 2017.

In 2019, the CRTC launched a review of mobile wireless services to assess the state of competition in the marketplace and examine whether further action was required to improve choice and affordability for Canadians.

State of mobile wireless services

According to the 2020 Communications Monitoring Report, prices for mobile wireless services have been steadily decreasing.

While there is growing competition among wireless service providers, there remain some areas where the market share is highly concentrated among Bell Mobility, Rogers and Telus, as well as SaskTel in Saskatchewan.

Through this review, the Commission has determined that prices and profits for those providers are high and not fully accounted for when looking at the investments they make in networks.

The Commission has therefore determined that the national wireless service providers together exercise market power in the provision of retail mobile wireless services in all territories and provinces except Saskatchewan, where Sasktel holds and exercises market power.

Wholesale Measures

Mandating access to facilities-based mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs)

To promote sustainable competition and affordable retail prices for Canadians, the CRTC is requiring that Bell Mobility, Rogers and Telus, as well as SaskTel, provide access to their mobile wireless networks to regional wireless providers that have invested in network infrastructure and spectrum, under certain conditions. This is intended to benefit areas where there is limited competition.

A facilities-based MVNO access model will make it easier for regional providers to grow their subscribers and revenues by expanding into new areas faster than they would otherwise.

They will also be able to resell their wholesale access to other wireless service providers, which could encourage further competition in the marketplace.

The CRTC’s policy maintains incentives for national wireless service providers, as well as SaskTel, to continue making significant investments to build and upgrade their networks. At the same time, it creates incentives for regional providers to invest in their own networks since the CRTC plans to phase out the mandated access after seven years.

The national providers and SaskTel have to file proposed terms and conditions for a facilities-based MVNO access service within 90 days.

Regional providers who use the MVNO service will have to file annual progress updates with the Commission, starting one year after they subscribe to the service.

MVNOs – Eligible Providers

Regional providers will be eligible to become virtual operators in areas where they have purchased a spectrum licence at the tier 4 level or higher (tiers 3, 2 or 1). Investment in spectrum demonstrates that a provider is committed to maintaining and expanding its operations, including its networks. 

Some tier 4 areas are roughly equivalent to the size of a city and its surrounding area, while others in more rural areas encompass a larger area with a number of smaller communities.

The national providers and their affiliate brands, as well as SaskTel in Saskatchewan, are not eligible for the service.

More information on service areas for competitive licensing:

More information on providers who have purchased spectrum:

Retail Measures

Low-Cost Plans

The CRTC expects SaskTel, Bell, Telus and Rogers to offer and promote, on their premium brands, low-cost plans that will have the following attributes:

  • Maximum $35∕month
  • Unlimited Canada-wide incoming/outgoing calls and text messages
  • Ability to send/receive multimedia messages
  • Minimum 3 GB of data
  • Bring your own device

Low-cost plans, which could be included in a bundle, are expected to be offered on a stand-alone basis, with no additional conditions limiting its access, and should not be linked or tied in any way to other services offered by the provider.

Extra charges could include: taxes, device subsidies, connection fees, long-distance, additional airtime and pay-per-use charges. Additional fees are to be clearly articulated and communicated to the customer.

Each service provider is expected to post on its website’s landing page for its mobile wireless services:

  • key details of the low-cost plan it offers, and
  • a prominent and descriptive link to the plan offering.

For those providers that offer, or will eventually offer, an app that allows customers to change their wireless plans, the low-cost plan should be presented as an option and displayed and promoted in a similar manner as the other plans.

Each provider is expected todisplay information about the postpaid low-cost plan that it offers in a visual format (via, for instance, an exhibit, flyers, or posters) in each of their stores and kiosks.

Each provider is expected to offer training on its postpaid low-cost plan to its customer service representatives. The representatives are expected to mention the plan to existing or potential customers who indicate that they are looking for a low-cost solution, whether the interaction occurs over the phone, a chat function, at a kiosk, in a store or via other means.

Occasional-Use Plans

The CRTC expects SaskTel, Bell, Telus and Rogers to offer and promote, on their premium brands, postpaid occasional-use plans that will have the following attributes:

  • Maximum $15∕month
  • Minimum 100 minutes for outgoing Canada-wide calls
  • Unlimited incoming calls
  • Unlimited incoming/outgoing text messages
  • 250 MB of data
  • No data overage charges
  • Bring your own device

The CRTC expects SaskTel, Bell, Telus and Rogers to offer and promote, on their premium brands, prepaid occasional-use plans that will have the following attributes:

  • Maximum $100/year
  • Rate plans and add-ons do not expire prior to 365 days
  • 400 anytime local minutes (maximum $0.15/minute after exceeding the limit)
  • 400 incoming/outgoing text messages (maximum $0.50/message after exceeding the limit)
  • $0.50/minute for long-distance calls incoming from Canada and outgoing to either Canada or the continental US, in addition to local airtime
  • Bring your own device

The occasional-use plans, which could be included in a bundle, are expected to be offered on a stand-alone basis, with no additional conditions limiting its access, and should not be linked or tied in any way to other services offered by the service provider.

Extra charges for both plans could include: taxes, device subsidies, connection fees, long-distance, additional airtime and pay-per-use charges.

Each service provider is expected to post on its website’s landing page that features its mobile wireless services a prominent and descriptive link to the occasional-use plan offerings.

Each provider is expected to offer training on its occasional-use plans to its customer service representatives. The representatives are expected to mention these plans to existing or potential customers who indicate that they are looking for a low-cost solution, whether the interaction occurs over the phone, a chat function, at a kiosk, in a store or via other means.

Semi-Annual Reports

Bell, Rogers, Telus and SaskTel will be required to file semi-annual reports that will include information on what low-cost and occasional-use plans are available, on what brands, how they are promoted, and the uptake of those plans. These reports will be made available on the CRTC’s website.

This will allow the Commission to measure the effectiveness of the retail measures set out in its decision, and ensure transparency and accountability to Canadians.

The first semi-annual report must be filed by September 30, 2021.

Seamless Roaming

The Commission is mandating a seamless roaming service, which will provide additional support for regional providers as they build out their networks.

Regional providers will be able to offer their customers mobile wireless services of equal quality to that of the national providers, including when their customers travel to areas outside of their home network.

Seamless roaming has to be offered by April 15, 2022.

5G networks

The national providers have an edge when it comes to 5G networks: they have national network coverage and retail market power, as well as a significant advantage in terms of the sites, towers, spectrum ownership, permits and access agreements with various entities for infrastructure access.

Therefore, the Commission has confirmed that the wholesale roaming policy applies to 5G networks. The national providers must file amended tariffs with the Commission within 90 days of the date of the decision.

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