Bankers representing telecom giant Rogers Communications Inc. have reached out to bankers working for Quebecor Inc. about potentially buying Shaw Communications Inc.’s Freedom Mobile, according to a source.
The Globe is not identifying the source because the person is not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Freedom, which has about two million wireless customers in Ontario, Alberta and B.C., is up for sale as part of Rogers’ $26-billion takeover of Shaw. While the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has approved the transfer of Shaw’s broadcasting assets to Rogers, two other regulators – the Competition Bureau and the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development – are still reviewing the takeover.
A representative of Quebecor declined to comment late Friday. A spokesperson for Rogers could not immediately be reached.
Pierre Karl Péladeau, president and chief executive officer of Videotron Ltd. owner Quebecor, has made his interest in acquiring Freedom known since the merger deal between Rogers and Shaw was announced in March, 2021. However, until recently, the company was absent from the negotiations for Freedom.
The Globe has reported that Rogers was in talks with Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners, a global private equity firm headquartered in New York that owns rural internet provider Xplornet Communications Inc., as well as with the Aquilini family, which owns the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks.
Representatives of Stonepeak and of the Aquilini family have met with the Competition Bureau, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. The regulator has not rejected the Stonepeak proposal, according to one of the sources. The Globe is not identifying the individuals because they are not authorized to discuss the confidential meetings.
Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne has said he will not allow the merger to eliminate Freedom, which competes with Rogers and has been credited with driving wireless competition. “The wholesale transfer of Shaw’s wireless licences to Rogers is fundamentally incompatible with our government’s policies for spectrum and mobile service competition, and I will simply not permit it,” Mr. Champagne said in a statement in March.
For Quebecor, acquiring Freedom Mobile would vault the telecom and media company out of Quebec, where it is a dominant player, onto a national stage. Analysts said the scale that comes with cross-country wireless network would better position Quebecor to compete with deeper-pocketed rivals BCE Inc., Telus Corp. and Rogers. Analyst Drew McReynolds of RBC Capital Markets said as Mr. Péladeau contemplates spending billions of dollars on 5G wireless networks, he would face some of the same pressures that led the Shaw family to sell their 50-year-old company.
“We believe Quebecor (not unlike Shaw) will approach a strategic crossroads with the company needing to weigh the opportunities and challenges ahead for an integrated regional operator in a 5G environment,” Mr. McReynolds said in a report.
By allowing Quebecor into the Freedom Mobile auction, Rogers may be increasing pressure on other potential buyers to raise their offers, according to a banker familiar with the process. Analysts have estimated the wireless business could fetch more than $4-billion. The Globe has reported that Globalive, led by Freedom Mobile founder Anthony Lacavera, has offered Rogers $3.75-billion to buy the wireless business back.
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