Bell Takes Ottawa to Court Over Wireless Plans to Attract Foreign Players

Looks like Bell has joined Telus in taking Ottawa to court over its wireless policies, reports The Globe and Mail (Bell owns a 15% stake in the newspaper):

BCE Inc. is heading to court in its battle against Ottawa’s strategy for attracting new wireless players, arguing that Industry Minister James Moore has no right to impose greater obligations on the company to help smaller rivals.

In a nutshell, Bell is arguing Ottawa has no right to retroactively change rules on wireless licences it acquired years ago, specifically targeting the government’s March 2013 revision of rules related to Big 3 roaming and tower sharing for new wireless players. Bell has argued these ‘loopholes’ do not enable fair competition in Canada, according to BCE spokesman Mark Langton:

“The loopholes in the wireless rules remain, despite Verizon’s announcement, and they need to close to ensure fair competition in Canadian wireless. This action addresses the loophole enabling foreign entrants to piggyback on the networks of Bell and other Canadian companies,”

“Bell’s networks are funded, built and owned by Canadians and the government has no right to hand them over to major foreign entrants for their use. Doing so means such entrants won’t invest in network infrastructure as Canadian companies like Bell do, especially in rural and remote locations.”

Bell filed an application on August 30 to have Ottawa’s wireless policy under judicial review; the Big Three have spent millions in an ongoing PR battle against the Federal Government’s wireless plans–which these companies had previously been consulted and agreed with– to increase competition. TELUS has previously filed two lawsuits against Ottawa and this latest from Bell makes it three total.

Jessica Fletcher, director of communications for Industry Minister James Moore criticized incumbents for their wishy-washy message and reiterated Ottawa won’t be changing any rules:

“It is ironic that the Big Three claim to be in favour of increased competition in our wireless market, yet are pursuing a campaign to stop the government from creating the very conditions that would create more choice for consumers,”

“We will continue to strongly defend Canadian consumers and the rules for the upcoming spectrum auction, which were designed after consultations with the wireless industry, including Bell Canada Enterprises.”

The Conservative Party recently launched a website called ‘More Choices’ on Industry Canada’s website, aimed to help ‘cut through the noise’ of the Big 3, specifically its controversial ‘Fair for Canada’ campaign, which telecom analysts have labeled as causing more backlash than gaining support of Canadian customers. Telus went so far as to say the campaign has been a success.

Despite Verizon making it clear Canada is no longer part of its expansion plans, the Big Three have continued to publicly wage war against Ottawa and its so-called wireless ‘loopholes’. Bell’s latest challenge to take Ottawa to court hopes to pressure the government to change its rules, but that does not seem to be happening anytime soon.

September 17 marks the deadline for telcos to place deposits on the 700MHz spectrum auction, set to take place in January 2014, which could include other foreign firms, despite Verizon out the picture, according to Minister Moore.