TORONTO — Consumers who yearn for more alternatives to Canada's large wireless carriers will have to wait longer, but in the meantime the CRTC has ordered the Big Three to offer consumers the option of lower-cost, data-only plans.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said Thursday that it has ordered Rogers, Bell and Telus to submit initial proposals for data-only wireless plans by April 23.
It also lowered the maximum wholesale rates that they can charge to other carriers that use their networks, from the levels set on an interim basis in December 2015.
But the CRTC didn't go so far as to force the trio to strike agreements with mobile virtual networks, a type of competitor that could avoid the enormous expense of having their own infrastructure by using another carrier's.
"Taking these things collectively, we're confident that today's decisions will ensure that Canadians have access to a range of affordable and innovative wireless services while fostering continued investments in high-quality networks," CRTC chairman Ian Scott said in a conference call with reporters.
He added that the CRTC had fulfilled its requirement to find a balance between competitive pricing and services for consumers and a sustainable business model for companies that invest in the necessary infrastructure.
The federal cabinet ordered the CRTC to reconsider a position it took last year, when it issued a pair of rulings against Sugar Mobile's attempt to piggy-back its WiFi-based mobile virtual network on the Rogers network.
While leaving those decisions intact, Scott said that there will be a "more fulsome" public process that will take another look at WiFi and MVNO options.
"I want to emphasize that we'll continue to monitor facilities-based competition as it continues to intensify and evolve."
Navdeep Bains, the minister responsible for telecommunications, ordered the CRTC to review its March 2017 decisions which were seen as a setback for competition from mobile virtual networks.
In one decision released March 1, 2017, the CRTC said it wouldn't require Rogers to open its network to Sugar Mobile, which wanted customers of its WiFi service to be able to use the national carrier for making calls.
In a more general decision, the CRTC said companies without a cellular network cannot allow their customers to "permanently roam" on the networks of the established national carriers.
Sugar had wanted to expand the reach of its WiFi phone service through Ice Wireless, a regional carrier in Canada's three northern territories that has a wholesale roaming agreement with Rogers Communications Inc.
Bains said last June that the CRTC decisions would prevent smaller carriers like Sugar Mobile from offering cheaper alternatives to Canada's large carriers and ordered the regulator to reconsider its decisions.