Legal battle intensifies over wireless claims

TORONTO — Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B) says it hosts the most reliable network in Canada. Telus Corp. says it operates the largest. And Bell Canada says its network is simply the best.

By THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO — Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B) says it hosts the most reliable network in Canada. Telus Corp. says it operates the largest. And Bell Canada says its network is simply the best.

Canada’s major telecommunications companies are extending their rivalry to court battles over those claims, just as competition to attract consumers becomes fiercer during the holiday season.

Rogers launched legal action against BCE Inc.’s (TSX:BCE) Bell Canada and Bell Mobility on Tuesday, the latest twist in a battle over who can claim to have the fastest, largest or most reliable wireless network in Canada.

Rogers filed a claim in B.C. Supreme Court in an attempt to stop Bell from perpetuating claims that Rogers says are false and misleading.

In the claim, Rogers said Bell cannot promote its network as being the largest, because it is shared with Telus Corp. (TSX:T), and that data suggesting Bell is the most reliable and fastest is misleading because it was compiled before the network launched.

Testing an empty network does not comply with industry standards, Rogers Wireless executive vice-president John Boynton said Tuesday.

“We have our own data to suggest that they’re not the most reliable and we will show up to court with our own data,” he said.

None of the claims have been proven in court.

Rogers is also taking aim at Bell’s claims to have the “best” and “most powerful network.”

“These are ludicrous made up statements they don’t mean anything and there’s no testing for the words powerful and best,” Boynton said.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Bell’s ads contain a footnote stating its claims are based on a September analysis, which tested the average download speeds, dropped calls and call clarity in large urban centres, comparing the shared Bell network to Rogers.

Bell spokeswoman Julie Smithers said the company stands by its advertising.

Rogers has asked the court to force Bell to remove the ads in an injunction similar to the one imposed Friday on it, that forces it to remove any advertising claiming it has the most reliable wireless network.

The order came after Telus asked a B.C. court to prevent Rogers from continuing to make the long-standing claim. The judge agreed with Telus’s argument that new networks put in place last month by it and Bell Canada have made it impossible for Rogers to claim superiority.

Rogers is due back in court Wednesday seeking to appeal the order.

The court battles between Canada’s three biggest wireless companies comes after Bell and Telus upgraded their wireless networks, enabling them to sell Apple’s coveted iPhone for the first time last month.

Carmi Levy, a telecom analyst with AR communications, said the lawsuits underscore how much is at stake in Canada’s wireless market.

“If they’re all prime for a pretty good fight, it means they’re going to fight for the loyalty of Canadian consumers.”

“By going for the jugular in court,” he said. “They believe they are highlighting just how non-monopolistic this market is and that there still truly is room for a good bar room brawl out in the market.”

Rogers has already removed its most reliable claim from its website and faces a Thursday deadline for television, newspaper and radio ads.

Ads plastered on public transit and billboards across the country must also be removed as soon as possible with a final deadline to remove all material by Dec. 18.

But Rogers spokeswoman Odette Coleman said Tuesday that: “We’re going to keep fighting this vigorously, we’re going to defend our claim.”

Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said the company has the biggest network in Canada, adding that Telus was also reviewing Bell’s claims.

“Canadian consumers make buying decisions in part on their understanding of who has the best wireless network and the wireless network who’s going to best suit their needs and they should be able to make that judgement on truthful information.”

But Boynton questioned why Telus did not launch a suit against Bell.

“How could Telus have the largest (network) and yet Bell have the largest, and maybe its worth asking those two why they’re not filing against each other because they’re definitive statements,” he said.

In its motion for appeal Rogers argues it will cost around $3 million to remove the ads launched as part of a $10-million campaign.

Don Fenton, a marketing consultant who teaches at the University of Toronto, said it would be tricky for Rogers to launch a new holiday campaign in the next two weeks.

But he added the lawsuits likely wouldn’t impact most Canadian consumers already skeptical of advertising claims.

“I think there’s a saturation of claims,” he said. “ I don’t think most consumers really care or believe them.”

The three providers, which control about 90 per cent of Canada’s wireless market, are preparing to fend off a new wave of rivals expected to launch networks next year after buying up wireless spectrum in a federal auction last spring.

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