Canada's Quebecor could buy smaller rivals in wireless expansion -CEO

TORONTO, June 18 Wed Jun 18, 2014 5:12pm EDT

TORONTO, June 18 (Reuters) - Quebecor Inc would consider buying small rivals to become a national wireless carrier that reaches most Canadians, its new chief executive officer said on Wednesday.

The provincial telecom and cable company recently bought wireless airwaves outside Quebec and the company's Videotron arm already connects half a million wireless customers in the mostly French-speaking province.

CEO Pierre Dion told a telecom conference that Quebecor would be willing to become Canada's fourth national carrier "under the right conditions."

"We are uniquely positioned to provide highly attractive wireless plans to Canadians looking for top-quality service at very competitive prices," he said, according to a speech prepared for delivery.

Dion said the company is also considering buying either Wind Canada or Mobilicity or both. The two operators joined a cosy marketplace after a 2008 auction but have struggled to challenge the dominance of BCE Inc, Telus Corp, and Rogers Communications.

The conditions that Dion would like to see before committing to expansion include a reduction in wholesale roaming rates charged by those dominant operators, and improved access to their towers. It also wants to be able to buy more airwaves on long-term payment plans.

The comments seem designed to exert pressure on the Conservative federal government to maintain its pro-consumer stance as it moves to encourage more competition.

But telecom analyst Dvai Ghose said challenges still remain for Quebecor, and that even an eventual launch is not as threatening to the established operators as would be a launch from a global player such as Verizon Communications Inc or Vodafone Group Plc.

Ottawa blocked the sale of creditor-protected Mobilicity to Telus earlier this year, while Wind's main backer is looking to exit the roughly break-even investment.

(Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)