Startup Sugar Mobile Says Rogers Trying To Shut It Down In Roaming Dispute

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A small telecom firm that’s offering a $19-a-month wireless plan says Rogers Communications is threatening its survival by cutting off its roaming agreement.

Users of Sugar Mobile could find themselves disconnected from the wireless network on Feb. 23, the company says, unless the federal telecom regulator, the CRTC, rules in favour of its request to stop Rogers from cutting off the roaming deal.

Rogers says it’s within its rights to cancel the deal because the discount wireless firm is violating the agreement’s terms.

Sugar Mobile launched in January, offering a $19-a-month wireless service with unlimited talk and text, and 200 mb of data.

What sets the service apart is that it uses an app that connects users to available WiFi networks, cutting down reliance on the big telcos’ wireless networks.

"Most people are in a Wi-Fi hotspot 85 to 90 per cent of the time," president and CEO Samer Bishay said, as quoted at the CBC.

It was an innovation some analysts predicted would offer wireless consumers more options and lower prices.

But when Sugar Mobile users aren’t on a WiFi network, they’re roaming on Rogers’ cellular network. Rogers is now planning to cut off those customers as of Feb. 23 of this year, Sugar Mobile said in a complaint filed with the CRTC.

It’s asking the CRTC to stop Rogers from disconnecting Sugar Mobile customers.

Sugar Mobile is owned by Ice Wireless, which offers wireless services in parts of the three northern territories and northern Quebec. It is this company that has a roaming agreement with Rogers.

If Rogers has its way, “both Ice Wireless’ and Sugar Mobile’s existence as viable businesses will be threatened,” the company said in the CRTC filing.

But Rogers says it has an agreement with Ice Wireless’ northern service — not Sugar Mobile.

“We value our relationship with Ice Wireless and hope these violations of our agreement will be resolved," Aaron Lazarus, senior director of public affair for Rogers, said in an email to CBC News.

"Rogers has never had an agreement of any kind with Sugar Mobile."

Sugar Mobile argues it’s all an attempt by Rogers to suppress competition.

“Rogers clearly feels threatened by the innovation and competition represented by Sugar Mobile, as it should. Canadians have been paying inflated prices for mobile wireless services for far too long,” the company said in its complaint.

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