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Ottawa poised to announce decision on wireless-spectrum transfers

Industry Minister Christian Paradis

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Industry Minister Christian Paradis will double down on the federal government's goal of ensuring sustainable competition in the $19-billion wireless industry when he announces a high-stakes decision on spectrum-licence transfers on Tuesday, The Globe and Mail has learned.

That long-awaited policy will play a key role in shaping the future of competition in the sector by determining the fate of three controversial deals by incumbent carriers to purchase spectrum assets from new-entrant carriers in violation of federal rules. The government's policy has come under question, with new entrants struggling to make inroads into the market. The new independent competitors – Wind Mobile, Mobilicity and Public Mobile – are all up for sale.

The announcement comes on the heels of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's new wireless code, aimed at spurring competition by freeing consumers to switch providers.

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Hanging in the balance are Telus Corp.'s proposal to acquire struggling upstart Mobilicity, and two separate deals by Rogers Communications Inc. to purchase fallow spectrum from Shaw Communications and Quebecor Inc., which are both considered newcomers to the wireless sector and face a ban on transferring those assets to big carriers until 2014.

Mr. Paradis is scheduled to outline the government's policy during a speech at 8 a.m. in Ottawa. He plans to send a strong message that the government wants more competition, lower prices and better services for consumers, sources say.

Moreover, he will announce that the Conservative government remains committed to ensuring that there are at least four carriers in every regional market. In doing so, he will outline the government's intention to use any and all tools at its disposal to ensure the success of that policy. The options available include regulation of domestic roaming rates and prices that incumbents charge to share their cellular towers with new entrants.

Meanwhile, there has also been mounting speculation that Mr. Paradis will be forced to delay a key auction of wireless spectrum. The 700 Megahertz auction is set to begin in November, but bidders must submit applications by June 11. With the clocking ticking, there is concern that some new entrant carriers simply lack the money to bid.

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