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People wait on the platform to enter a subway train inside a Toronto Transit Commission station in downtown Toronto, on April 1.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

BCE Inc. BCE-T and Telus Corp. T-T are asking federal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne to help them secure a commitment from Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-B-T that their customers will be allowed onto the expanded wireless network on Toronto’s subway system concurrently with Rogers customers.

In April, Rogers announced that it had struck a deal to acquire BAI Canada Inc., the company with the sole right to develop wireless infrastructure inside Toronto Transit Commission tunnels, for an undisclosed amount.

Rogers has said that it plans to bring other carriers on board. However, BCE and Telus are frustrated with the pace of negotiations and 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, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

The carriers are asking Rogers to more precisely define the terms of that access, the sources said. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the individuals because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Ellen Murphy, a spokesperson for BCE’s Bell Canada, called on the government and the TTC “to ensure that all carriers be given access on day one.”

“Rogers should not be allowed to be the gatekeeper that decides when subway riders will get access based on the wireless carrier of their choice, and customers shouldn’t be left stranded while they wait for 5G to be deployed in the subway, which could take years,” Ms. Murphy said in a statement.

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A spokesperson for Rogers said the company “stepped up to acquire BAI Canada to modernize and expand the cellular network across the entire subway system for all TTC riders.”

“As we have said from the outset, we remain committed to working with other carriers to join the network on reasonable commercial arrangements. We’re confident we will work out these terms so all riders, regardless of carrier, will benefit,” Sarah Schmidt said in a statement.

“Our first priority at this time is stabilizing the existing legacy network to ensure 911 services continue to be available for all transit riders with a mobile device, while we work with the TTC to plan the expansion and upgrades to the network to accommodate all carriers,” she added.

Toronto-based Rogers has said that it would expand the existing network, which only covers station platforms, concourses and about a quarter of the tunnels with third- and fourth-generation wireless technology, and upgrade it to 5G within two years.

In an April 19 open letter addressed to Bell, Telus, Rogers and Quebecor Inc. QBR-B-T, Mr. Champagne asked Canada’s major carriers to “rapidly come to an agreement” that will give all riders access to wireless services in the subway system, regardless of which carrier they use. Currently, only customers of Freedom Mobile, now part of Quebecor’s Videotron Ltd., have access to the Rogers-owned network.

His letter followed a string of violent attacks on the transit system that prompted industry experts and Toronto politicians to call on the carriers to offer cellphone service inside the subway as a safety measure. Mr. Champagne has asked the companies for an update on their negotiations within 30 days.

The TTC awarded the contract to build the wireless network to the Canadian branch of BAI Communications, an Australian telecommunications infrastructure company, in 2012, after a bidding process that began in 2009.

Bell has been publicly advocating for a model in which all carriers own a stake in the network, which is known as a joint build. However, the TTC has rejected Bell’s proposal that it scrap the existing agreement and award the contract to another consortium.

Earlier this month, the TTC announced that it has extended the contract until “at least” 2042.

The transit agency did not have any role in approving Rogers’ acquisition of BAI, which resulted from a private negotiation between the two companies.

“However, once we became aware of the potential deal, we seized on the opportunity to work with Rogers to enhance the agreement,” TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said in a statement.

“As part of this new agreement, Rogers will be our partner until at least 2042 with a net benefit to the TTC of at least $49-million plus other financial and in-kind benefits – almost double the guaranteed revenue of the original 20-year contract,” he added.

Richard Gilhooley, a spokesperson for Telus, said in a statement that a consortium model would reduce congestion, improve emergency services and keep the network operational in the event that one carrier experienced an outage.

“This model has been successfully proven with the STM [Société de transport de Montréal],” Mr. Gilhooley said.

Follow Alexandra Posadzki on Twitter: @alexposadzkiOpens in a new window

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