Rogers had ended its roaming agreement with Sugar Mobile’s parent company, Ice Wireless, because it said Ice Wireless had violated the terms of the agreement when it extended roaming coverage to its offshoot.
Sugar Mobile is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which means it does not own any wireless infrastructure and instead uses Wi-Fi to provide the bulk of its mobile service. For $ 19 a month, customers have unlimited calling, texting and data while on a Wi-Fi network, and up to 200 megabytes of cellular data for when they don’t have access.
Its parent company, which operates cell networks in northern Canada, has had an arrangement with Rogers since 2008, said Samer Bishay, president of both Ice Wireless and Sugar Mobile. When their customers are out of the network, Ice Wireless pays for them to use Rogers’ roaming network, and vice-versa.
“Rogers has never had an agreement of any kind with Sugar Mobile,” said Rogers spokesperson Aaron Lazarus in an email.
If an MVNO has an agreement with another provider, and that provider has an agreement with a Big Three, then the Big Three must provide roaming access to the MVNO.
Bishay says Sugar Mobile is a legitimate MVNO that has a network agreement with Ice Wireless and should have access to Ice Wireless’s roaming network.
According to Sugar Mobile, only 10 per cent of its customers’ data usage comes from cellular networks. Although Sugar Mobile also has agreements with Telus and Bell, Bishay said Rogers is an essential link in its network of coverage and has asked the CRTC to force Rogers to provide interim relief until its ruling is handed down.
If the CRTC rules in Rogers’s favour, Bishay said he’s worried it will trigger a “snowball effect” where all providers refuse access to MVNOs.
“Whatever the CRTC rules is actually crucial to the entire industry,” Bishay said.
The CRTC has ordered Rogers to keep providing roaming access to Ice Wireless and Sugar Mobile customers until it has ruled on the request for interim relief.
Rogers must submit its comments by Thursday, and Ice Wireless must reply by Feb. 22.
Lazarus said Rogers has already worked out a way for its customers to be covered while travelling outside the Rogers network in northern Canada, and that the company hopes to eventually resume a business arrangement with Ice Wireless.
“We value our relationship with Ice Wireless and hope these violations of our agreement will be resolved,” he said.