There is a growing lineup of potential buyers and partners for Globalive Wireless Management Corp., as rivals and private equity funds attempt to take advantage of the upstart telecom company's battle with Ottawa over foreign ownership restrictions.
As Globalive lobbies federal Industry Minister Tony Clement to overturn last month's regulatory road block to its planned national wireless launch, Data & Audio-Visual Enterprises Wireless Inc. founder John Bitove added his name to the list of bidders on the embattled company's cellphone networks.
"We are absolutely interested in parts of Globalive's spectrum," Mr. Bitove, the chairman of DAVE Wireless, said in an interview yesterday. While Mr. Bitove said his Toronto-based company has not been in contact with Globalive or the federal government, he said: "If Industry Canada needs assistance on the spectrum issue, we would be pleased to be part of a solution, and that solution will benefit taxpayers."
On Friday, Rogers Communications Inc. chief executive officer Nadir Mohamed said his company, Canada's largest wireless provider, would bid on Globalive's assets, if they went up for sale.
Industry Canada has asked for comment on Globalive's ownership by Wednesday, and with that deadline looming, a spokesperson for Globalive said yesterday that the company would decline comment on its rivals' proposals.
Toronto-based Globalive paid $442-million for airwave licenses from Ottawa last year.
Globalive made the purchase as part of the government's move to introduce new players in the sector, only to see the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission halt its roll out on concerns the company was effectively controlled by Egyptian carrier Orascom Telecom Holding SAE.
While Ottawa is still trying to balance foreign ownership rules with its goal of increasing competition in wireless, consumers will ultimately win out, Mr. Bitove said. "Customers are going to have more choices in wireless, more plans, more competition on price in the very near future. DAVE and the other services are ready to launch," said Mr. Bitove, whose backers include U.S. private equity fund Quadrangle Group LLC.
In addition to interest from DAVE Wireless and Rogers, Globalive has been approached by a number of financial players - including private equity funds - willing to help finance its planned network. The CRTC's objections to Globalive's plans are based on the influence that Orascom could wield due to the extensive loans the Egyptian company is making to the Canadian player.
"Globalive fielded a number of proposals for financing after the CRTC decision, and some of them are on better terms than its loans from Orascom," said one lawyer working with a Canadian company that has offered to lend. A number of sources said while Globalive has listened to pitches on alternative financings, the company wants to exhaust its political options before seriously considering rejigging its ownership. "Every proposal Globalive has seen contain governance or ownership concessions that they would prefer not to make," said the lawyer working for a potential Canadian partner.
The Industry Minister is expected to make a decision on Globalive's ownership later this month, and sources in Ottawa say it would be unprecedented for the federal government to overrule a regulator without receiving concessions from the company.
Right now, voting control of Globalive rests with Canadian chairman Anthony Lacavera. Orascom is a minority shareholder with 32 per cent of the votes. However, Orascom is lending Globalive more than $500-million, owns 65 per cent of its shareholder equity and has a $100-million services contract. The Egyptian company has stakes in telecom plays around the world, and claims 80 million subscribers. Globalive is already a player in Canadian telecom, with its Yak Communications unit offering cut-rate long distance and Internet services.
The Canadian wireless market is dominated by Rogers, Telus Corp. and Bell Canada owner BCE Inc., which has a indirect minority ownership stake in The Globe and Mail.