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A 2018 Accenture analysis estimated that Canadian carriers will have to spend $26-billion to build out fifth-generation wireless networks, and the CEO of BCE, Mirko Bibic, seen here on Feb. 19, 2020, says that mandating MVNO access could cause Canada to fall behind its global peers on this front.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Canada’s large national carriers should be forced to open up their wireless networks because they have been unwilling to enter into commercial agreements with wireless resellers, the chief executive of Cogeco Inc. says.

Cogeco, which serves 850,000 internet customers in Ontario and Quebec, would love to get into the wireless industry, according to its president and CEO Philippe Jetté. But its efforts to negotiate access to the larger carriers’ networks have gone nowhere, Mr. Jetté told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Wednesday.

“We’ve tried on multiple occasions," Mr. Jetté said on the second day of hearings on the state of Canada’s wireless industry. “But the other parties are simply not responding in a way that are conducive to a commercial agreement.”

The issue of whether Canada’s large national carriers should be required to sell network access to wireless resellers without their own networks, known in the industry as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), has taken centre stage during the hearings under way in Gatineau. The CRTC has said its preliminary view is that the benefits of mandating MVNO access would outweigh the risks.

Cogeco has put forward a proposal, similar to one tabled by the Competition Bureau on Tuesday, that would only give companies willing to invest in infrastructure access to national wireless networks. The company says such an approach would ensure wireless expansion, open up competition and lead to lower cellphone bills.

However, Canada’s big three telecom companies – BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp. – strongly oppose any mandated access, arguing that such a policy would dissuade them from investing in their networks at a critical juncture.

A 2018 Accenture analysis estimated that Canadian carriers will have to spend $26-billion to build out fifth-generation wireless networks, and the CEO of BCE, Mirko Bibic, says that mandating MVNO access could cause Canada to fall behind its global peers on this front.

"If aggressive regulatory prescriptions are put in place by the CRTC, it’s going to impact investment industrywide, and that’s going to affect the pace of how fast we can invest in 5G and things like [building out] fibre to the home, which are the building blocks of the modern Canadian economy.”

However, Matt Stein – CEO of Distributel and chair of the Canadian Network Operators Consortium, an industry group for independent internet service providers – said it’s not the first time that BCE and its peers have threatened to curtail investment. They made the same arguments years ago regarding internet regulations but have nonetheless continued to invest and to maintain their dominant market positions, Mr. Stein said.

“There is no reason to believe the outcome will be any different in the wireless market,” Mr. Stein said.

Although wireless resellers are free to negotiate access to the national carriers’ networks, Canada currently has a dearth of MVNOs. Mr. Jetté says BCE, Rogers and Telus simply aren’t interested in allowing new competitors into the market.

However, Mr. Bibic said BCE would be willing to enter into an agreement under certain conditions. He isn’t interested in proposals from companies looking to provide coast-to-coast coverage to the same customer segment that Bell Mobility currently serves.

“But if they come forward with a particular customer segment in a particular area of the country that they could tackle better than we can, then we’re all ears,” Mr. Bibic said.

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