The agency that operates Toronto’s subway system has rejected a proposal by Bell Canada BCE-T to revamp its wireless cell service model in a way to prevent Rogers RCI-B-T from charging its rivals a fee for their customers to access the network, calling it “a non-starter.”
The TTC will not consider Bell’s request to require a joint-build model, in which all carriers would own a stake in the network infrastructure, spokesperson Stuart Green said in a statement.
On Wednesday evening, Industry Ministry François-Philippe Champagne called on Canada’s major telecom companies to reach a deal that would allow any company to access the TTC network after Rogers Communications Inc.’s purchase of the existing operations. Rogers has said it is open to other providers signing on.
Bell president and CEO Mirko Bibic responded to the minister that his company would only take part in the network if it has a chance to help build it with the other carriers.
“The ‘neutral host model,’ where one company builds the infrastructure and others join through an operating agreement, is common practice and works well in other jurisdictions,” said Green in an email.
“To suggest, as this letter does, we tear up the contract reached after an open and public bidding process and instead award our wireless services to another consortium without a public tender is a non-starter for the TTC.”
Green said the TTC “stands by the public and transparent” open tender process that began in 2009, which resulted in Australia’s BAI Communications being awarded a $25-million contract to build and operate the TTC’s public Wi-Fi and cellular network three years later.
BAI agreed earlier this month to sell its Canadian operations to Rogers, which plans to build a 5G network for the entire subway system in around two years.
“Bell willingly participated in that open tender process, ultimately being outbid by $20 million,” Green noted.
“The current proposal 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.”
He said the agency “looked forward to all Canadian telcos banding together to provide wireless access to their customers while on the TTC, as is routinely done across the country on transit systems and in other public facilities.”
Bell and Telus T-T did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Rogers said it stood by its previous statement that it is “committed to working with all carriers” to make the network accessible “for all riders.”
In his letter to Champagne on Wednesday, Bibic called it “astounding” that the project “would be awarded to one party without a transparent open-bid process.”
Bibic told Champagne that Bell and Telus have jointly offered to acquire the BAI contract if Rogers won’t agree to a joint-build model on its own or do so by requirement from the TTC. Bibic said Ottawa and the CRTC should compel Rogers to implement the joint-build model if the company resists.
Telus said it agreed with Bell that “a consortium approach” to building the TTC network” is the best way forward.
Speaking in Toronto last week, Rogers president and CEO Tony Staffieri promised the network “will work for everybody.”
“We think it’s important for not just our customers but for Torontonians and that was our intent in doing this,” he said. “If Bell, Telus want to step up and join in, we’re happy and open to having those discussions with them.”
Only Freedom Mobile signed on to provide coverage to its customers in the 11 years since BAI won the rights to build the network.
While customers not with Freedom have been unable to use BAI’s network other than for 911 emergency calling for more than a decade, calls to make the system work for all Torontonians have surfaced after a spate of violent incidents on the TTC system.