Minister Champagne on Rogers, fourth wireless competitor
Canada's industry minister vowed to step in if Canada's major telecom providers don't reach an agreement to ensure wireless service is available for all riders on Toronto's subway system.
Speaking at a press conference in Montreal on Friday, François-Philippe Champagne said he’s not shy about “pushing the telcos to do what’s right for Canadians.”
“Because some of them, they listen to me — they tend to do that when I speak about them — if they don’t come to an arrangement together that would serve Canadians, that would increase the coverage, that would increase the 911 services in the subway system in Toronto, we’ll take action and we’ll make sure that we do what’s right for Canadians,” Champagne said.
Last week, the minister penned a letter to the executives of Bell Canada, Telus Communications Inc., Quebecor Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. calling on the major carriers to reach a deal that would allow any company to access the TTC's wireless network after Rogers’ purchase of the existing operations.
The companies were given 30 days to respond detailing their respective statuses on the issue and outline a joint plan.
"As we have said from the outset, we are committed to working with all carriers," Rogers spokesman Cam Gordon said in a statement on Friday.
But Rogers' rivals have indicated that paying Rogers a fee to access the network is not a viable option for them. Bell and Telus both point to the consortium model used by the Montreal Metro for its wireless network as the ideal approach for the TTC.
Bell president and CEO Mirko Bibic responded to the minister last week that his company would only take part in the network if it has a chance to help build it with the other carriers. The company said Friday that riders' safety "should not be used as a commercial bargaining chip."
"The Rogers approach is a pay for access model versus our joint build approach where all mobile users, regardless of carrier, are treated equally from day one like we have done in Montreal and other transit systems in Canada," said spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis in an emailed statement.
"TTC got their $20M and commuters got no network and no service. And now they’re supporting yet another gatekeeper."
Telus said a consortium approach would "achieve the most reliable outcome."
"It would result in access for all riders regardless of their cellphone provider, less congestion on the network, ability for the network to continue to operate in the event that one carrier suffers a network outage, and a better overall customer experience," said Telus spokesman Martin Nguyen in a statement.
"The TTC, as well as the Minister and the industry, should focus on these considerations as well as the need to improve emergency services on the network. In the meantime, we will continue to work with the TTC and our industry peers to ensure the best outcome for Torontonians."
In his letter last week, Bibic said that Bell and Telus jointly offered to acquire the rights to build out the wireless network if Rogers won't agree to their ask, which the TTC called a "non-starter."
Meanwhile, Rogers president and CEO Tony Staffieri urged Champagne in his own reply to "not get caught up in the rhetoric of our competitors, particularly the response from Bell … which included many inaccuracies and unfounded accusations that are disrespectful to the process and are not in the best interests of the TTC and its riders."
The lack of phone service for most TTC riders has been a growing concern since 2012, when Australia's BAI Communications was awarded a $25-million contract to build and operate the TTC's public Wi-Fi and cellular network.
Freedom Mobile was the only company that signed on to provide coverage to its customers since then. While customers not other carriers have been unable to use BAI’s network other than for 911 emergency calling for more than a decade, calls to make the system work for all Torontonians resurfaced after a recent spate of violent incidents on the TTC.
BAI agreed earlier this month to sell its Canadian operations to Rogers, which plans to upgrade the existing network covering around one-quarter of the subway's underground tunnels over the next nine months. Staffieri has said it will take around two years for Rogers to also build a 5G network for the remainder of the subway system.
Champagne said the issue “touches one million people per day which are using the Toronto transit system."
“It’s something a bit shocking that in a country like Canada, that in the largest transit system in our nation, which is the one in Toronto, that people cannot have reliable access to cellphone coverage,” he said.
“My letter to the telco CEOs was, ‘let’s do better,’ and I trust in them to come together to do better.”