Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-B-T has proposed a framework aimed at reaching agreements with other carriers regarding the terms under which its competitors will be able to access its wireless network on Toronto’s subway system.
The framework was shared with federal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne last month, the Toronto-based telecom said on Monday. The company did not divulge the details of the framework.
Rogers said it is confident that it will be able to reach deals with other carriers in a timely manner, but has proposed a dispute resolution process to fall back on if commercial negotiations fail.
The wireless giant announced in April that it was acquiring BAI Canada Inc., the Canadian branch of an Australian telecommunications infrastructure company with the sole right to develop wireless infrastructure inside Toronto Transit Commission tunnels. The price was not disclosed.
Bell Canada Enterprises BCE-T Inc. and Telus Corp. T-T have been pressing Mr. Champagne to help them secure a commitment from Rogers that their customers will be allowed onto the network concurrently with Rogers customers.
The Globe previously reported that BCE, or Bell, and Telus are concerned that Rogers is attempting to gain a commercial advantage by delaying access to the network for non-Rogers customers for a period of time.
In an April 19 open letter, Mr. Champagne asked BCE, Telus, Rogers and Quebecor Inc. QBR-B-T to “rapidly come to an agreement” that would allow all riders to access wireless services in the subway system, regardless of which carrier they use. He also requested that the companies provide an update on their negotiations within 30 days.
Mr. Champagne’s letter followed a string of violent attacks on the transit system, which sparked calls for the major wireless carriers to offer cellphone service inside the subway as a safety measure.
The TTC awarded the contract to build the wireless network to BAI Canada in 2012, after a bidding process that began in 2009.
Currently, only customers of Freedom Mobile, now part of Quebecor’s Videotron Ltd., have access to the network. However, all riders are able to make emergency 911 calls on the network, which only covers station platforms, concourses and about a quarter of the tunnels.
Rogers has vowed to expand the existing network and upgrade it from third-generation and fourth-generation technology to 5G within two years. Currently, “the legacy network cannot handle customer traffic from the three major carriers,” the company said in an article posted on its website Monday.
“We signed a deal to modernize and expand the network across the entire subway system to deliver full wireless coverage, for everyone. Regardless of their carrier.”
BCE and Telus have been advocating for a model in which all carriers own a stake in the network, which is known as a joint build. The telecoms have argued that such a model would reduce network congestion, improve emergency services and keep the network functioning in the event that one carrier experienced an outage.
However, the TTC has rejected a proposal from BCE that it scrap the existing agreement and award the contract to another consortium.
BCE said on Monday that the framework that Rogers has put forward to the minister is “based on a failed model that will lead to further delays for TTC riders.”
“The framework proposed by Rogers does not ensure all customers are served regardless of who their carrier is. It simply establishes Rogers as the gatekeeper of access to wireless service in the subway. The TTC is a ‘public good’ asset, and wireless connectivity should be available to all riders at the same time regardless of their carrier,” spokesperson Jacqueline Michelis said in an email.
“Despite repeated requests Rogers still has not provided other carriers with any engineering details of the subway’s wireless network including the capacity of the network to accommodate multi carrier traffic and the nature of the upgrades required to create a robust all carrier network,” she added.
Last week, Robert Malcolmson, BCE’s chief legal and regulatory officer, accused Rogers of continuing to “stonewall” and “refusing to negotiate, provide any technical information, or begin the collaboration that would help all of us prepare to connect everyone to the network.”
Mr. Malcolmson wrote on LinkedIn that “it is clear that Rogers is hoping to withhold or delay access for the majority of Canadians who do not subscribe to their services.”
The TTC “stands by the public and transparent process that began in 2009 with a Request for Expressions of Interest,” spokesperson Stuart Green said in response to Mr. Malcolmson’s post. “Bell willingly participated in that open tender process, ultimately being outbid by $20-million.”
He added that the deal between BAI and Rogers is a “private business transaction/acquisition which Bell or others could have entered into at any time over the past 12 years – yet Bell either didn’t try to, or couldn’t, make work.”