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Wind Mobile drops domestic roaming fees for customers

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TORONTO - Wind Mobile has announced it will charge substantially lower domestic roaming fees and bring in faster data speeds for customers that travel outside the company's coverage areas and need to use another Canadian carrier's network.

The move follows new limits by the federal government on what the larger wireless network operators can charge to carry traffic for their smaller rivals.

"In June, the government took a very positive step in legislating interim relief — rate caps — and we've now, in very short order, passed through a very significant savings to our customers," Wind president and chief executive Anthony Lacavera said in an interview Thursday.

The Big Three wireless carriers have national networks and don't charge domestic roaming fees in Canada because their customers are usually within their coverage areas.

Lacavera said only about five per cent of Wind's customers regularly pay any roaming fees, since most stay close to home and within the company's coverage areas in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. But he added the new rates will increase the company's competitiveness.

Toronto-based Wind — which has most of its customers in the Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary areas — says it will cut charges for data domestic roaming to five cents a megabyte, down from $1. Roaming rates for calls are being cut by 25 per cent to 15 cents per minute and texting by 66 per cent to five cents each.

Wind said it also plans to launch HSPA+ data roaming speeds, which are standard within the company's own coverage area, but faster than what has been available to its roaming customers because of the high fees.

Ottawa has said it is committed to helping promote competition within the wireless sector, which is dominated by Rogers (TSX:RCI.B), Telus (TSX:T) and BCE's Bell (TSX:BCE). However, each of the big companies have at least 10 times the subscriber base of Wind, which currently has about 760,000 customers.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission recently announced that it will prevent "exclusivity" clauses in wholesale roaming agreements between carriers. The move allows smaller carriers like Wind, Mobilicity, Videotron and Eastlink to negotiate deals with more than one of the three national carriers.

The Competition Bureau noted, in a filing ahead of a CRTC hearing on wholesale wireless rates to be held in September, that there's evidence that the roaming rates charged to Canada's smaller wireless rivals have been too high by international standards — a position that the incumbents dispute.

"We've seen no evidence that new entrants cannot come to commercial agreements for domestic roaming," Bell said in a statement Thursday after Wind's announcement.

"A new wholesale regulatory regime for domestic roaming risks slowing network innovation and investment. European regulators have discovered the impact of over-regulation, which has led to inferior investment and recent moves to reduce the number of carriers."

Canada's big wireless companies have been rolling out new high-speed LTE networks across the country.

A statement issued by Rogers said regulations should be based on evidence that any changes would help, not hurt consumers.

"Any new rules should encourage investment so consumers get access to new technologies and the best networks at reasonable prices, whether they live in urban or rural Canada," Rogers said.

— Follow @DavidPaddon on Twitter

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