CRTC Should Force Rogers, Telus, Bell to Provide TTC Cell Coverage: Experts

Experts are calling for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to use its regulatory powers and force Rogers, Bell, and Telus to provide underground cellular service on the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) subway system — reports The Globe and Mail.

Torontonians and city officials have been expressing a rising need for wireless coverage along the TTC amidst an uptick in violence on the subway line over the past year. Calls for cell service were renewed after 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes was stabbed to death at Keele station last month.

Even though the required wireless infrastructure has been in place along the TTC for almost a decade, Freedom Mobile is the only operator currently providing underground cell service on the line. Rogers, Bell, and Telus customers get no cell service on the TTC.

In 2012, BAI Communications won a 20-year, $25 million exclusive contract to build out network infrastructure on the TTC. Today, all 75 subway stations and portions of the tunnel have the infrastructure required for talk, text, and data coverage. However, service remains widely unavailable because none of the Big Three have signed on to use BAI’s network infrastructure.

With the growing violence on the TTC, riders are concerned for their safety and demanding that wireless operators provide underground coverage. Ben Klass, a Ph.D. candidate and telecommunications policy researcher at Carleton University, said the CRTC could step in and issue a mandate compelling Rogers, Bell, and Telus to provide wireless service on the TTC.

According to the expert, the regulator could use Section 24 of the Telecommunications Act, which gives the institution the powers to impose conditions on wireless carriers governing the “offering and provision of any telecommunications service.”

“The CRTC has the power to order these companies to offer service and also to set the conditions on which they do so,” the researcher said. “It has extremely broad powers to deal with these types of things.”

In addition to Section 24, Klass noted that the CRTC could also use Sections 40 and 42 to justify its intervention. Section 40 enables the CRTC to require a Canadian operator to connect its telecommunications facilities to another company’s network, while Section 42 allows the CRTC to require or permit a carrier to provide telecommunications facilities.

“In general, Bell, Rogers and Telus never want to use other companies’ infrastructure,” Klass added. “They always want to use their own because it’s the cheapest way. They make the most money when they do that.”

Rosa Addario of consumer interest group OpenMedia said that the Big Three won’t budge unless forced to.

“There’s an easy fix and they’re refusing to sign on to it,” she said. “These companies are so used to being the ones that own the networks and people pay them for access and they don’t want to see it be the other way around.”

According to Jennifer Quaid, a University of Ottawa professor who specializes in competition law, this situation goes to show why regulation can be essential. “It’s an illustration of when you do need regulation,” she said.

Klass said that the CRTC usually doesn’t act on some of the powers it has under the Telecommunications Act until it receives a complaint. Last week, the Toronto City Council passed a motion urging the city to “call on all cellphone providers” to ensure that service is made available across the subway system and to notify the provincial and federal governments of the request.

“If we received advice from city staff and the TTC about the need to reach out to the regulator, we would follow that advice,” a spokesman for Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie said in an email.