Quebecor Inc. QBR-B-T chief executive officer Pierre Karl Péladeau is crediting recent regulatory decisions with encouraging competition in the wireless sector, as Quebecor’s Videotron Ltd. subsidiary prepares to expand its mobile services beyond its home province of Quebec.
Speaking at a conference in Ottawa on Monday, Mr. Péladeau highlighted a slew of recent decisions by federal regulators that he believes will benefit consumers, including the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s April, 2021, ruling that forces the Big Three national wireless carriers and SaskTel to sell network access to eligible regional competitors.
“We need a robust policy favouring increased competition. The good news is that things seem to be moving in that direction,” Mr. Péladeau said during a conference held by the Canadian Chapter of the International Institute of Communications.
Mr. Péladeau said he was also encouraged that Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne has said he won’t allow Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-B-T to acquire all of Shaw Communications Inc.’s SJR-B-T wireless licences as part of a proposed $26-billion takeover.
Mr. Péladeau has been expressing his interest in acquiring Shaw’s Freedom Mobile, Canada’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, and building a national wireless network since the Shaw takeover was announced in March, 2021. His company had been absent from the negotiations, but in recent weeks bankers working with Rogers contacted bankers representing Quebecor to engage in discussions, The Globe and Mail has reported. Freedom Mobile has roughly two million customers in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
Montreal-based Quebecor has another option for its wireless expansion, the company told analysts last week. Its telecom subsidiary could use the new framework created by the CRTC to access the Big Three carriers’ wireless networks as a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO. The framework provides wholesale network access to regional competitors that own spectrum in the relevant areas. In order to encourage network investments, the MVNOs have seven years to build out their own wireless infrastructure. (Spectrum refers to the airwaves used to transmit wireless signals.)
“Canadians need to have access to reasonably priced, next-generation wireless services in all provinces, and not only in Quebec. … Videotron and Quebecor are ready to take on this challenge,” Mr. Péladeau said on Monday.
It’s not the first time Quebecor has eyed a national wireless expansion. The telecom previously abandoned the effort in 2015, blaming the federal government for moving too slowly on wholesale roaming rates and tower-sharing rules.
Last summer, the telecom revived its expansion plans, spending nearly $830-million on 294 blocks of spectrum, with more than half of its investment going to provinces outside its home market: Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C.
Rogers recently reached out to Quebecor about potentially acquiring Freedom, The Globe previously reported. Other bidders for the wireless carrier include Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners, the New York-based private equity firm that owns rural internet provider Xplornet, as well as a group that includes Musqueam Capital Corp., the $10-billion LiUNA Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada and the Aquilini family, which owns the Vancouver Canucks.
Bankers representing Rogers reached out to Quebecor’s counterparts just as the Competition Bureau moved to try to block the takeover by filing applications with the Competition Tribunal. The deal also requires the approval of the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
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