Federal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne is forcing Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-B-T to give BCE Inc. BCE-T and Telus Corp. T-T access to the Rogers-owned wireless network on Toronto’s subway system by Oct. 3.
Mr. Champagne is also requiring that all wireless carriers that offer service in Toronto have commercial agreements with Rogers in place to provide service on the Toronto Transit Commission within the next 100 days, and that cellular coverage be available throughout the entire subway system within three years.
The requirements are being imposed via new conditions on the telecoms’ wireless licences. The Minister’s department is responsible for issuing licences for spectrum – the airwaves used to transmit wireless services – and has the ability to impose and amend the conditions attached to those licences.
“It’s sad that we have to do this – to force them to do so. But I think now they understand that we mean business,” Mr. Champagne told reporters during a press conference held alongside Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow on Monday.
Rogers launched 5G service on what it said were the busiest sections of the subway system last month amid a dispute with rival telecoms that have been seeking access to the Rogers-owned network.
The dispute between Rogers and its two main competitors – BCE and Telus – began months ago, after Rogers acquired BAI Canada Inc., the Canadian branch of an Australian telecommunications infrastructure company with the sole right to develop wireless infrastructure inside the subway system.
However, the companies have been unable to come to an agreement since Rogers acquired the network, with both sides accusing the other of delaying negotiations.
The stalemate prompted Mr. Champagne to break the deadlock on Monday.
Representatives of Rogers, Bell and Telus reacted positively to the announcement. Telus spokesperson Richard Gilhooley said in a statement that the telecom is “pleased by today’s decision to compel Rogers to provide access to all carriers on the TTC,” adding that it’s “regrettable” that it took action by the Minister to “force Rogers to do what they had promised to do months ago.”
He added that Telus is ready to offer service on the subway system as soon as possible.
Jacqueline Michelis, a spokesperson for Bell, called it “a good day for Toronto.”
“With the federal government now forcing Rogers to finally work with other carriers, we look forward to providing our customers with underground wireless coverage in the coming weeks,” Ms. Michelis added.
Rogers spokesperson Sarah Schmidt, meanwhile, said in a statement that the government’s approach “reflects what we’ve been proposing all along – to bring 5G services to all riders as quickly as possible.”
“Bell and Telus have been dragging their heels and the federal government is now forcing them to work with us in earnest to make connectivity possible for all riders. This is good news for Toronto transit riders. While we’ve been busy building, they’ve been busy whining. We’ll continue to work around the clock to upgrade and expand the network so all riders can connect anywhere on the subway,” Ms. Schmidt said.
Currently, only customers of Rogers, Freedom Mobile and Freedom’s new owner, Videotron Ltd., are able to offer service in the subway, although all riders are able to make emergency 911 calls.
Rogers, which has committed to expanding the wireless network inside the subway system, has said that the current network could not support traffic from all three major carriers.
“If you switched on roaming on the Rogers network in the TTC, there would be significant customer experience issues for Bell, Telus and Rogers customers, including interruptions in connectivity and dropped calls,” Rogers spokesperson Sarah Schmidt said in an e-mail.
“It would also almost certainly oversubscribe the system and block access for everyone, so people couldn’t make calls or send texts at peak times. We can’t deny our own customers access to their home network and provide a universally bad experience for all customers,” she added.
However, a government official told reporters on Monday that he’s confident the network has the capacity for all riders to talk and text.
Mr. Champagne said the government is seeking to “ensure is some level of services for all TTC users, even if it could mean that for a very short period of time there would be reduced service for one carrier.”
Mr. Champagne previously vowed to step in if the carriers didn’t promptly come to an arrangement that would provide all TTC riders will cellular service. The issue gained prominence after a string of violent attacks on the transit system, which sparked calls for the telecoms to offer service inside the subway tunnels as a safety measure.
After the companies failed to reach an agreement in a timely fashion, Mr. Champagne launched a consultation with a view to imposing additional conditions on their spectrum licences.
If the companies fail to adhere to the conditions that Mr. Champagne announced on Monday, they could face monetary penalties or have their licences suspended or revoked.
Mr. Champagne did not specify the amount of those potential penalties, saying that he doesn’t anticipate that it will come to that.