By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO, Sept 9 BCE Inc ,
Canada's largest telecoms company, is taking Ottawa to court to
fight government moves to assist new entrants in the wireless
market as part of its policy push to increase wireless
Ottawa earlier this year extended and expanded rules that
compel Canada's three dominant wireless operators - BCE, Rogers
Communications Inc and Telus Corp - to open
their networks to the customers of smaller rivals.
The Conservative government extended indefinitely a
requirement that the big three share their cellular towers with
smaller competitors and provide them with roaming services on
their networks. When introduced in 2008, the roaming
requirement, designed to make upstarts more attractive to
customers, was limited to five years.
BCE's Bell Mobility unit says that the government cannot
change its rules in midstream, and has gone to Federal Court to
argue that Ottawa does not have the right to force it to share
its cellular network infrastructure. It is seeking a judicial
review of the changes the government has made.
It is also seeking to stop Ottawa from imposing similar
roaming and tower-sharing conditions in an auction of 700
megahertz spectrum in January.
The petition adds to pressure being exerted on the
government by the country's big three telecoms ahead of the
January auction of prized airwaves in which the trio will be
restricted to bidding on fewer blocks than new entrants.
The combination of generous auction and network-sharing
rules is designed to entice more wireless providers into Canada.
The government has said it would like to see four major players
in each region of the country, with the aim of lowering prices
But this prospect took a hit when U.S. giant Verizon
Communications Inc said this month it had decided not to
enter the Canada market for now.
BCE said it had paid for exclusive deals with property
owners to host its cellular towers, and was being forced to
waive those commercial rights.
"Companies cannot be expected to bid hundreds of millions of
dollars for the right to acquire and use spectrum, and many more
hundreds of millions of dollars to develop network
infrastructure, if the conditions of its use can be subject to
arbitrary, unilateral change during the term of the licence,"
Bell wrote in the submission.
A spokeswoman for the minister in charge of telecom policy
said Canadian consumers are the government's main concern.
"We will continue to strongly defend Canadian consumers and
the rules for the upcoming spectrum auction, which were designed
after consultations with the wireless industry, including Bell
Canada Enterprises," Industry Minister James Moore's director of
communications, Jessica Fletcher, said.
The 700 MHz airwaves that will be auctioned in January are
highly valued for their ability to penetrate buildings and
travel long distances.
In July, Telus filed its own application for a judicial
review over restrictions on the sale of airwave licenses, after
the government blocked Telus from acquiring spectrum held by
struggling startup Mobilicity.
Bell Mobility is represented by law firm Blake, Cassels &
Graydon LLP. The complaint, filed on Aug. 30, is Bell Mobility
Inc vs the Attorney General of Canada, file number T-1474-13.