Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-B-T is pledging to expand wireless service on Toronto’s subway system once it acquires BAI Canada Inc., raising complaints from BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada that it was not given the opportunity to bid.
Rogers said in a news release late Monday that it has reached an agreement to acquire BAI Canada, the company with the sole right to develop wireless infrastructure inside the city’s transit tunnels. Rogers said this will allow it to bring calling and internet connectivity to all Toronto Transit Commission stations, platforms and tunnels within two years. The company did not disclose the deal price.
Rogers said it would work to bring other carriers on board as it builds out the network. “We’re planning to initiate discussions with other providers to participate,” Rogers spokesperson Cam Gordon said in an e-mail.
Jacqueline Michelis, a spokesperson for Bell Canada, said the company is troubled that it was not included in the bidding process. She said Bell is asking the city to “show some leadership” by mandating immediate access for all carriers.
“Giving the contract to Rogers without any open bid process is surprising, especially given how TTC customers were so poorly served by BAI for so many years,” Ms. Michelis said. “The TTC is just replacing one gatekeeper with another.”
TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the transit agency’s chief executive officer, Richard Leary, has been in conversations with Rogers executives, and has obtained “their commitment to work with other carriers to build out the system with all parties at the table.”
Currently, only customers of Videotron Ltd.’s Freedom Mobile have cell connections in the subway. The Canadian branch of BAI Communications, an Australian telecommunications infrastructure company, first won the right to build the TTC wireless network through a bidding process in 2012. Until now, Bell Canada BCE-T, Telus Corp. T-T and Rogers have declined to use BAI Canada’s network.
Industry experts and Toronto politicians have recently called on the big carriers to provide better cell service inside the Toronto subway as a safety measure, after a string of violent attacks on subway platforms and bus terminals, including the stabbing death of a 16-year-old at Keele station in late March.
Currently, the subway wireless network covers station platforms, concourses and about 25 per cent of the tunnels, according to Rogers. Customers of any wireless carrier can access 911 services in those areas. Rogers says it will partner with the TTC to expand that coverage to the rest of the subway system as part of the BAI Canada acquisition.
“We know safety is top of mind for Torontonians. Residents and visitors expect wireless connectivity when they’re travelling on the TTC’s subway system,” Ron McKenzie, Rogers’ chief technology and information officer, said in the company’s news release.
BAI Communications said in a news release Monday that the deal follows a year of negotiations.
Telus spokesperson Richard Gilhooley confirmed that his company also had not been involved in any bidding process for BAI Canada. But he said the company “would have welcomed” the opportunity to bid. The network “needs to include access for all cellular providers, so that all riders have coverage,” he said.
The move from Rogers has elicited mixed reactions from Toronto politicians. Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie told the CBC at an unrelated event on Tuesday that she was “overjoyed” with the news.
“This is a big step in the right direction, I’m looking forward to everybody working together to get this rolled out as soon as possible,” she said.
Former city councillor Ana Bailao, who is now running in a by-election to replace former Toronto mayor John Tory, made pushing for better 911 coverage on the subway one of her first campaign pledges. At a scheduled event Tuesday morning, she said she would continue pressing to have all customers connected underground.
Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders, who is also running for mayor, suggested on Twitter that bolder leadership at city hall could have made this happen more quickly.
Another mayoral candidate, city councillor and former TTC board member Brad Bradford, said he is concerned about Rogers holding monopoly power over the network buildout. Mr. Bradford said that during his time on the TTC board, from 2018 to 2022, connectivity in the subway was rarely discussed.
As another safety measure, the TTC has said it plans to increase camera coverage in all subway stations, excluding the Scarborough Rapid Transit line, to at least 90 per cent by the end of 2024.
Rogers recently closed its $20-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc., ending a two-year process that involved going through Canada’s competition court and the Federal Court of Appeal.