The TTC thought Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-B-T would build out the Toronto subway’s wireless network together with its rival carriers under a consortium model when it purchased the Canadian operations of BAI Communications in April, documentsobtained through Toronto’s access to information protocolsuggest.
While Bell Canada BCE-T and Telus Corp. T-T have both fiercely advocated for a joint build of the subway’s 5G network using a consortium model similar to that of Montreal’s Metro system rather than a pay-for-access approach, Rogers has not publicly committed to either model.
But the transit agency expected Rogers to proceed with its build under the consortium model, according to a TTC briefing note viewed by The Canadian Press.
“While Rogers begins to implement the necessary network investments to bring enhanced connectivity to the subway system, they are inviting other Canadian wireless carriers to join them in a consortium model, similar to how other network transit systems in Canada are deployed,” the note reads.
The document was sent to the City of Toronto’s TTC board of commissioners on April 10, a few minutes after Rogers announced it was acquiring BAI’s Canadian arm.
The TTC said Friday that Rogers never committed to the transit agency that it would proceed with a consortium model and chalked up the language in its briefing note to a misunderstanding over the “technical definition” of the word.
“We in the TTC comms shop were using consortium to mean ‘working with other carriers’ on the operations side – getting the others on board,” spokesman Stuart Green said in an email.
“That’s why the word appears. We now realize there is a more technical definition, but … no, there was no such commitment.”
Rogers spokesman Cam Gordon declined to comment on the briefing note, instead referring reporters to the TTC’s response.
The documents also indicate that the TTC was aware at the time of a request from Bell to ensure the transit agency used a consortium cost-sharing model.
One month before Rogers’ announcement, Bell urged the TTC to use its right of approval to “adopt a consortium approach as part of any new arrangement for the provision of wireless services in the subway system.”
In a March 10 letter sent to TTC board chair Jon Burnside and shared with TTC CEO Rick Leary, Bell executive vice-president and chief legal and regulatory officer Robert Malcolmson said his company had become aware of negotiations between Rogers and BAI that could see Rogers become the wireless network provider for the subway system.
“One potential solution should BAI exit is for Bell and other carriers to enter into a consortium agreement for servicing the TTC subway, an approach that today successfully delivers wireless services for customers using the Montréal metro system,” Malcolmson wrote.
He added that a similar approach is set to provide TTC customers with access to wireless services along underground portions of the Metrolinx Eglinton Crosstown LRT.
Bell accused Rogers of misleading the City of Toronto based on the content of the TTC briefing note.
“Since acquiring BAI with the City’s approval, Rogers repeatedly refuses discussions with Bell and other carriers on a consortium approach,” said spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis.
“Despite numerous requests, they have not yet 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.”
In mid-June, Bell requested the CRTC intervene in the dispute by ordering Rogers to allow other carriers to connect to the network “as soon as technically feasible” under a consortium model.
Bell’s submission to the federal telecommunications regulator said Rogers “has already contractually committed to the TTC to adopt this model and there is no basis for any dispute over the core principle.” It said Rogers officials have told Bell on multiple occasions it favoured a consortium approach despite not putting that in writing.
The CRTC responded June 23, saying it strongly urged all stakeholders “to work together to resolve what mainly appear to be contractual and technical matters” in order to “avoid the need for unnecessary regulatory intervention.”
Rogers said in its own response to Bell’s submission that it has “proposed a fair and reasonable framework, which will ensure that customers of all carriers have access to wireless services on the TTC.”
It added that if negotiations are unsuccessful, Rogers has proposed the companies enter binding arbitration using Industry Canada’s rules for that process, which sets out that a decision must be reached within 65 days for a written hearing or 85 days for an oral hearing.
But other carriers say Rogers has yet to respond to requests for negotiations on the matter.
“Rogers has yet to agree to a meeting, which is a direct contradiction to their public statements stating they are committed to good-faith negotiations and ensuring that all riders have access to TTC connectivity regardless of their wireless provider,” Telus spokesman Richard Gilhooley said in a statement.
“These delays and tactics from Rogers do nothing to serve the TTC ridership or Torontonians.”
Rogers’ proposed framework, sent to federal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, pledged to consult its rivals on design and planning, accommodation of spectrum needs and access to carrier base station hotels as it adds 5G cellular capacity to the TTC’s entire underground subway network.
Under the framework, Rogers would act as the lead carrier of the upgraded network, but the company would make the system accessible for other mobile carriers to provide their customers text, voice and data services.
Rogers has said extensive fibre network and radio equipment upgrades are needed to add 5G cellular capacity to the TTC, replacing the current 3G and 4G network, which is limited to TTC subway platforms and concourses and approximately one-quarter of tunnels, mostly located downtown.