Freedom Mobile Founder bolsters $3.75B bid to buy the wireless carrier back with Telus tie-up
Globalive Capital Chairman Anthony Lacavera said that financing his bid for Freedom Mobile won’t be an issue as he looks to regain control of the wireless company he founded 14 years ago.
“Historically, we had some challenges with the capital that we brought in when we founded Wind Mobile,” Lacavera said in an interview on Thursday.
“This time around, the capital is really not something that we’re concerned about in terms of it being an issue. Of course, it will be scrutinized but it’s U.S.-based capital.”
Lacavera founded Wind Mobile, which was rebranded to Freedom after Globalive sold the business to Shaw Communications Inc. in 2016 for $1.6 billion. At the time, Globalive tapped Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris to help pay for the company’s spectrum and infrastructure roll-out. The disclosure resulted in a lengthy court battle that reached the Supreme Court to determine if Sawiris’ investment ran afoul of foreign investment restrictions on Canadian telecom companies. The court ultimately ruled in Wind’s favour.
Lacavera said he’s working alongside several U.S. private equity firms including Baupost Group and Twin Point Capital, as well as a “broad consortium” of investors, but didn’t provide further specifics.
Those comments come after his company announced it signed a conditional network and spectrum-sharing agreement with Telus Communications Inc. in the hopes of furthering its attempt to buy Freedom Mobile.
The agreement is dependent on Globalive successfully acquiring Freedom Mobile, which is up for grabs as Rogers Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc. look to appease regulators and gain approval for their takeover proposal. Lacavera confirmed he’s had high-level discussions with Rogers and offered $3.75 billion for the Freedom Mobile business.
“I think though that it's very clear at this point that the Canadian government is going to require a well capitalized, clearly independent fourth carrier in the form of the necessary divestitures,” he said. “As we all know, at this point they haven't been successful so far in getting the requisite approvals to be able to proceed with the Shaw merger and I think that our proposal is very strong.”
In a press release, Globalive said the sharing agreement would be for a minimum term of 20 years and “effectively eliminate” the possibility of Rogers reacquiring Freedom. It’s the first time a Canadian incumbent has entered into such a deal with an independent wireless operator, according to Globalive. It could also help convince regulators that Freedom Mobile won’t run into the same network coverage problems it encountered when it first operated in Canada more than a decade ago.
Rogers’ proposal to buy Shaw ran into a roadblock on May 9, when the Competition Bureau confirmed it’s aiming to block the $20-billion deal on the basis that it threatens to reduce competition in the wireless market.
The Competition Bureau and Rogers both declined to comment on Globalive’s deal with Telus. A spokesperson with the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Industry said they will evaluate all deals presented to them on merit.
Scotiabank Analyst Jeff Fan said in a note to clients Thursday that he “would be surprised” if Rogers sold Freedom to Globalive now that it has a conditional network-sharing deal with Telus.
“If they do, Rogers will be boxed in by Telus (and Bell since they have a network sharing agreement already), and Freedom/Globalive,” Fan said. “It would be 3 vs. 1 on network investment and spectrum position, which would be a worse positive than before.”
Globalive isn’t the only company vying for Freedom Mobile’s assets as Quebecor Inc. and Xplornet Communications Inc. have both expressed interest in acquiring the wireless business.
However, Fan said that Globalive’s announcement may compel Rogers to push for a Freedom deal with Quebecor, which may not require a full network-sharing agreement between the two.
“We think if it is a strategic buyer like Quebecor, network sharing may not be necessary for the regulators because Quebecor has mid-band spectrum outside Quebec and the capital to invest and compete with a reasonable path to 5G that support facility-based competition,” Fan said. “We think the regulators will accept an agreement that includes access to backhaul and sites by Freedom on Rogers’ network based on commercial terms.”
However, Lacavera isn’t convinced Quebecor would be the best fit for Freedom Mobile.
“Quebecor, no question about it, they're a regional cable company, but I don't think that's what Canada needs,” he said. “I think Canada needs a pure-play independent wireless company. And by pure-play, I mean an operator that's not encumbered by any legacy businesses … Quebecor has the balance sheet and a big business in Quebec. But that's actually a boat anchor when you look at what's needed to compete nationally in a pure-play wireless context."
Disclosure: BNN Bloomberg is owned by Bell Media which is a subsidiary of BCE Inc.