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Bell Chimes in to Help Rogers Cut Off Startup Sugar Mobile

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Discount wireless carrier Sugar Mobile is now getting tag-teamed by Canada’s incumbent wireless carriers, as Bell has jumped in to support Rogers in their dispute with the startup.

Yesterday, Bell filed an intervention to Ice Wireless’ (parent company of Sugar Mobile) request to the CRTC asking for an interim order to stop Rogers from cutting off their roaming agreement, reports The Globe and Mail.

Rogers previously notified Sugar Wireless it planned to disconnect them from roaming on their network earlier this month, but that was put on hold after the startup requested an interim order from the CRTC to prevent service cut off. The CRTC has asked Rogers to hold off on disconnecting Sugar Wireless until it can rule on the matter.

Bell claims it has an interest in the case and in clarifying the CRTC’s regulatory framework as the conclusion “will almost certainly have an impact” on its own roaming services.”

Ice Wireless says the CRTC’s policy issued last May allows their current roaming agreement with Rogers.

The CRTC at the time, said the Big 3 had to provide wholesale wireless roaming services “to all subscribers served by their wholesale roaming partners, including the subscribers of any MVNOs operating on their wholesale roaming partners’ networks.”

Mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) essentially buy wholesale wireless from major providers and resell to their own customers, usually at a discounted price. MVNOs are popular in the U.S. and worldwide, but have not been successful in Canada, due to prices charged by incumbents. PC Mobile and Speakout by 7-11 are lame Canadian examples, as their pricing is usually similar to what the Big 3 are charging.

As for Sugar Mobile, it argues it is an MVNO of Ice Wireless and thusly entitled to be part of the roaming agreement the latter has with Rogers.

However, Rogers and Bell, in their CRTC filing yesterday, noted concerns with Ice Wireless re-selling roaming access to customers outside of their licensed region, with Rogers saying “These customers are clearly not roaming and have no right to use Rogers. The commission ought not to sanction this type of activity by way of interim relief.”

Both wireless carriers said the urgency of an interim order was unwarranted, since Samer Bishay, president of Sugar Mobile and parent company Ice Wireless, told The Globe and Mail earlier this week it could still operate without Rogers.

Bell explained to the CRTC Sugar Mobile is likely violating their roaming agreement with Rogers by allowing its customers to to “permanently roam” on the Rogers network.

Bishay argues they are operating within CRTC rules. He said Rogers is the only national roaming partner they have and severed ties would mean “we lose a big chunk of the country.”

Sugar Mobile is not alone in their fight to stop Rogers from cutting them off. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and the Canadian Network Operators Consortium (CNOC) similarly filed interventions Thursday in support of Ice Wireless’ interim order to prevent a Rogers network shutdown.

Yesterday, the CNOC lost their appeal to the CRTC in a separate case, as the latter concluded against the industry group and its request to make network access to MVNOs mandatory by incumbent carriers.

The CRTC has given Ice Wireless until Monday, February 22, to file reply comments on the interim motion, with March 17 as the deadline for interventions on the complaint.

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