BCE Inc. BCE-T is asking Canada’s telecommunications regulator to intervene in its now escalating dispute with Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-BT over access to the Rogers-owned wireless network on Toronto’s subway system.
Montreal-based BCE, the parent of Bell Canada, has filed an application with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission seeking a series of urgent orders, including one prohibiting Rogers from onboarding its own customers onto the network until it is able to provide access to all wireless carriers.
BCE is also asking the regulators to order Rogers to provide all carriers seeking to access the network with engineering assessments and to allow them to build their own infrastructure to connect themselves to the network “as soon as technically feasible.”
The application marks an escalation in the weeks-long dispute between Rogers and two of its rivals – BCE and Telus Corp. TT – over cellphone service on the subway system in Canada’s most popular city.
The dispute began after Toronto-based Rogers announced in April that it was acquiring BAI Canada Inc., the Canadian branch of an Australian telecommunications infrastructure company with the sole right to develop wireless infrastructure within the Toronto Transit Commission subway tunnels.
Since then, BCE and Telus have been pushing for a joint build model in which all carriers own a stake in the network, arguing that such a model would reduce network congestion and improve reliability.
They have also been pressing federal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne to help them secure a commitment from Rogers that their customers will be allowed onto the network concurrently with Rogers customers.
Rogers, for its part, has insisted that BCE and Telus have mischaracterized its commitment to modernizing and expanding the network for the benefit of all riders, and has accused its rivals of delaying the process.
The telecom has vowed to provide access to all carriers and has proposed a framework that would see the timing of that access and other terms worked out during commercial negotiations, with arbitration available if Rogers was unable to reach commercial agreements with BCE, Telus and Quebecor Inc. ., which now owns the carrier Freedom Mobile, by Aug. 15. The company has vowed to engage in “good faith commercial negotiations.”
However, in its application to the CRTC, BCE alleges that Rogers is “not operating in good faith,” but rather is attempting to gain a commercial advantage by delaying access for non-Rogers customers for “as long as possible.”
BCE claims that Rogers is refusing to make or consider any commercial proposals, or to engage in “ordinary course technical collaboration” aimed at facilitating access for other carriers.
“Unless the Commission intervenes, it is likely to be years before the majority of Canadians can access wireless services in the TTC subway system,” the application reads.
BCE is asking the CRTC to rule on the matter by July 14.
In a statement Friday morning, Rogers called Bell’s submission to the CRTC “full of inaccuracies and mischaracterizations.”
“Our commitment to modernize and expand the network to deliver full wireless coverage as soon as possible for all TTC riders regardless of their carrier remains unchanged,” the company said.
“Over a month ago, we proposed a fair and reasonable framework for all carriers to join the network and offered to use the government’s arbitration process if we couldn’t work out a deal by August. Meanwhile, we’re focused on ensuring critical 9-1-1 services continue to be available for all TTC riders on the existing network and addressing a significant public safety concern.”
Currently, only Freedom Mobile customers have access to the network, which covers station platforms, concourses and only about a quarter of the subway tunnels. However, all riders are able to make emergency 911 calls.
Rogers has committed to expanding the existing network and upgrading it from third-generation and fourth-generation technology to 5G within two years. The wireless giant has said that the current legacy network cannot handle customer traffic from the three major carriers.
In a statement last week, the federal department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada said that Mr. Champagne has requested that the carriers negotiate in order to “find a coordinated path forward.”
“However, these negotiations have not yet produced an outcome that will serve all customers. The Minister is monitoring the negotiations closely. He is prepared to take further action and is reviewing all options,” Sean Benmor, a spokesperson for the department, said in an e-mail.
Mr. Champagne asked the carriers back in mid-April to update him on their negotiations within 30 days. His request followed a string of violent attacks on the transit system, which sparked calls for carriers to offer cellphone service inside the subway as a safety measure.