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Rogers lawsuit targets Bell advertising claims

A Rogers Wireless retail store in Vancouver


'Tis the season to be suing.

Betting that there's no better defence than a good offence, Rogers Communications Inc. has filed a suit in British Columbia Supreme Court against BCE Inc.'s Bell Mobility over a new ad campaign boasting that Bell's new high-speed service operates on "the largest, fastest, and most reliable network."

The action comes as Rogers is already on its heels after a suit under the Competition Act by Telus Corp. led to a British Columbia Supreme Court judge ordering Rogers to remove its long-stated claim of running "the most reliable network." An appeal in that case is scheduled Wednesday, but Rogers has already begun to remove the claims from its marketing. It has said in court that it has no backup marketing plan for the holiday season.

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The new lawsuit does not yet have a hearing date.

Canada's wireless field has suddenly become hotly competitive after Telus and Bell together last month launched a high-speed voice and data network that is capable of running devices like the iPhone, which until recently was offered only by Rogers. Wireless operators are battling hard for customers as new entrants plan to launch low-cost services.

Directly echoing the Telus lawsuit it lost, Rogers is now accusing Bell of "false or misleading" advertising with its new campaign. While Bell has about 6.7 million customers remaining on its old network, Rogers points out that it has far fewer customers on the new high-speed network and therefore could not have conducted testing with sufficient traffic to validate any claims of reliability.

"We have evidence to deliver to the court that says they are not more reliable than we are, nor are they faster than we are," said John Boynton, the chief marketing officer of Rogers Wireless.

"An empty network is always going to be faster," noted Iain Grant of the Seaboard Group, a communications and technology consulting firm in Montreal and Toronto. "So I think Rogers' case has merit."

Rogers further notes that ads boasting "Being with Bell just got better," create the mistaken impression that all of Bell's customers will benefit from the new network, not just its new high-speed users.

Bell acknowledged it conducted testing before its new network had many customers that could clog up the data stream.

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"Is ours a brand new network and did we only begin offering service on Nov. 4? Yes, that's true," Bell spokesman Mark Langton said. Still, he insisted Bell stood behind its advertising. "We'd rather fight it out in the marketplace than the courtroom, but we'll defend ourselves as required."

In an indication of the extent to which the Canadian wireless industry has devolved into a schoolyard spat, Rogers demands in its suit that Bell stop describing its network as "the best and most powerful."

"They are nonsensical, made-up words with no evidence or rationale or consumer research behind how they arrived at any of those," Mr. Boynton said.

Asked about Rogers's use of the adjective "ultimate" - the company is currently advertising that it offers "the ultimate web phones" - Mr. Boynton said the word was "a descriptor, like coolest. They're soft subjective." Customers would not expect "ultimate" to have any technical connotations, he said.

Noting that Canadians have more choices of high-speed wireless networks than their U.S. counterparts, the Seaboard Group's Mr. Grant suggested consumers look on the bright side of the legal sparring. "The real story for Canadians is that we now have three of the fastest networks on the planet because of this rapid arms race we're having in technology. And they're just using the courts to make sure we all know that."

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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