* Private equity fund registers to lobby government
* Sources say Rogers backs Birch Hill bid to thwart Verizon
* BCE accuses Ottawa of arrogance
* Industry minister accuses Big Three of dishonest campaign
By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA, Aug 14 Birch Hill Equity Partners Inc, a
Canadian private equity fund, has registered to lobby Ottawa
over investment in wireless carriers, lending credence to the
idea it wants to buy two small wireless firms and elbow aside a
possible move into the Canadian market by Verizon Communications
Sources have tipped Birch Hill as a possible bidder for
controlling stakes in small players Wind Mobile and Mobilicity,
two newcomers in the market, with financial help from market
leader Rogers Communications Inc..
Birch Hill registered with the federal Registry of Lobbyists
() on Aug. 8 with plans to lobby
the prime minister's office and the Industry Department on the
topic "Telecommunications Policy Framework with regard to
investment in wireless carriers in Canada".
The Toronto-based fund was not available to comment on
Canada's Conservative government and the Big Three Canadian
phone companies - Rogers, BCE Inc and Telus Corp
- are embroiled in an increasingly nasty and public dispute over
telecom sector rules that the government says are designed to
boost competition and the companies say favor Verizon's entry.
Verizon has declined to comment in detail on any plans for
Canada, but sources familiar with the matter have said the U.S.
company has offered to buy Wind Mobile for $600 million to $800
million, and is in talks to acquire Mobilicity.
Under current rules, the Big Three are not allowed to
acquire the two small players' spectrum, as it was intended for
Also, in an auction of spectrum next year, Rogers, BCE and
Telus are each limited to bidding on one of four prime blocks of
spectrum, whereas new entrants, including Verizon, may bid for
In a high-profile lobbying and advertising campaign, the
three companies say the rules will cost Canadian jobs, and BCE
board member Anthony Fell said on Tuesday that new Industry
Minister James Moore had been disrespectful in allocating only
half an hour apiece to talk with the phone company bosses.
"To be frank, there is an arrogance about both the ministry
and the department, which I believe is inappropriate," he wrote
in an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In response, Moore accused Fell of engaging in
"misinformation," and blasted "dishonest attempts to skew
debates via misleading campaigns". ()
The companies say they have no plans to stop their lobbying.
"We think this is an important issue for Canadians. We'll
continue to work to make sure they understand the consequences
of current government rules, which give an unfair advantage to
large foreign players," Rogers spokeswoman Terrie Tweddle said.
But it is far from certain that the government would approve
any bid from Birch Hill, given Ottawa's focus on trying to drum
up new competition to force the three dominant players to lower
The Globe and Mail newspaper said on Wednesday that Verizon
and Canadian officials held "exploratory talks" in Ottawa on May
21 about wireless opportunities, and the phone companies say
Canadian officials also went to New York to court Verizon.
Asked for comment, Moore's spokeswoman, Jessica Fletcher,
would say only that departmental officials regularly meet