* Rogers, BCE, Telus say auction rules favor a Verizon
* Auction of wireless spectrum set for January
* Verizon's interest in Canada may be cooling
OTTAWA, Aug 29 Canadian Prime Minister Stephen
Harper on Thursday disputed claims by his country's leading
wireless companies that his government's telecommunications
rules give unfair advantages to foreign players like Verizon
Canada's three biggest wireless companies - Rogers
Communications, BCE Inc and Telus Corp
- are asking the Conservative government to rethink its rules
for next January's auction of wireless spectrum, saying the
playing field is slanted in favor of a Verizon.
Verizon had signaled a tentative interest in entering the
Canadian market, but there is speculation more recently that its
interest is waning, reinforced on Thursday when Vodafone Group
Plc said it was in talks with Verizon to sell its stake
in Verizon Wireless, the No. 1 U.S. mobile carrier.
"The reality of the situation here is there is no special
rule or special loopholes for foreign companies," Harper told
reporters in Toronto.
"There are rules that assist all new entrants, whether they
be Canadian or foreign, to enter the marketplace and provide
competition that will be in the interest of Canadian consumers,"
Under rules the government says are designed to increase
competition and drive down prices for consumers, new entrants
can bid in the auction for two of four prime blocks of the
spectrum that wireless companies need to operate mobile
services, while the existing big players can bid for only one
The three incumbents, which cater to 90 percent of the
market, have launched an advertising blitz to sway public
opinion. While they favor competition, they say, the new rules
were drafted with smaller firms in mind, and Verizon is bigger
than the three of them combined.
If Ottawa lends a hand to Verizon to enter Canada, they say,
the Canadian players could be forced to cut jobs and trim mobile
phone coverage in rural areas.
One full-page newspaper ad this week compared the country's
airwaves to precious natural resources: "If the government let a
giant foreign corporation buy up half of Canada's water, you
would be outraged," it said, with a photograph of a lake and
mountains. It went on to say foreign corporations were getting
Harper and the minister overseeing telecoms policy, Industry
Minister James Moore, have made it clear they won't budge as a
Sept. 17 deadline looms for companies to register for the
"As I've said before, I understand full well the desire of
the major incumbent telecommunication companies to protect their
bottom line. They have every right to do that," Harper said.
"But the responsibility of the government is to act in the
broader public interest."
Verizon had approached two small Canadian wireless companies
earlier this year, but it has now decided to delay any such
move, raising doubts about whether Verizon still had plans to
expand into Canada, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported this