Eastlink is introducing new nationwide plans, becoming the first new-entrant carrier to eliminate domestic roaming fees for its wireless customers.
Halifax-based Eastlink made the announcement Friday as part of a broader overhaul of its cellphone plans, stressing it is making the change in response to customer feedback after launching its wireless service earlier this year.
Its move to eradicate domestic roaming fees on both voice and data comes at a time when Eastlink and other small carriers are urging the federal telecom regulator to regulate the wholesale rates they must pay incumbents to offer those services to their customers. Separately, the federal government has vowed to lower domestic roaming rates as part of its recent Throne Speech.
Roaming fees are the charges that customers pay to maintain wireless services, such as voice and data, if they use their cellphones while travelling outside their carrier's network footprint.
Currently, domestic roaming agreements – which allow customers of one Canadian carrier to ride on the network of another in areas where their own coverage is lacking – are commercially negotiated between telcos. But smaller carriers like Eastlink complain they overpay their larger rivals for those wholesale rates – which has a direct impact on the retail rates they must charge consumers for domestic roaming services.
Eastlink said Friday that its new wireless plans would offer consumers more choice. The new offerings include "nationwide plans with no roaming fees, and a new easyTab model," the company said in a release.
"Our culture is to listen and respond to our customers," stated chief executive officer Lee Bragg. "They've told us that they want fewer plan restrictions, more choice and flexibility, and more transparency. I'm happy to say that we are listening and as a result we have further improved our offerings."
That means customers who opt for the new nationwide plans would not pay any roaming fees within Canada, allowing for "worry-free usage" from coast to coast, the company said.
Eastlink's new "tab" plans, meanwhile, would eliminate smartphone subsidies after two years – a shift that is in line with the provisions of a new code of conduct for carriers that is set to come into force on Dec. 2.
Although the company will not disclose how many wireless subscribers it has acquired to date, Mr. Bragg stressed he is "pleased with how the wireless business is developing."
Eastlink, a subsidiary of Bragg Communications Inc., has 550,000 TV subscribers in nine provinces and also sells Internet and home phone services. In Atlantic Canada, the company competes with rivals including Bell Aliant and Rogers Communications Inc.
Late last month, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission created a special task force to investigate both domestic and international roaming rates. The regulator has been fielding complaints about those fees and their associated terms and conditions for more than a year now and the task force is due to offer recommendations in December.
Earlier this year, Eastlink told the CRTC that incumbents charge "inflated roaming fees."
"The result is clear. Incumbents are left with substantial profit margins, in part because of commercially unreasonable wholesale roaming rates they collect, while new entrants who require profits to expand our network are left with only narrow gains for investment," reads Eastlink's submission.