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.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of iPhoneinCanada.ca. Follow me on Twitter, and @iPhoneinCanada, and on Google+.

  • Chrome262

    they are just lucky they didn’t exclude them completely from this latest auction, which in my opinion is what they should of done.

  • Chrome262

    or better yet, enforce the network sharing they promised. I don’t know whay the government doesn’t pursue criminal charges agains the big 3, or do the preliminaries as if they are going to so they could scare them once more. they have proven that they scare easy.

  • 1His_Nibs1

    Yep, I was going to say the exact same thing. Exclude Telus & Bell in the upcoming wireless spectrum auction for taking the government to court and forcing the government to waste our tax dollars on legal fees. But after reading your second post, I like that idea even better. Taking the big three to court for violating the terms of the network sharing agreement seems like a nice tit for tat. Oh and btw if ““Bell’s networks are funded, built and owned by Canadians” then how come I’m paying a wireless phone bill? If I “own it” then I’m entitled to free cellular everything!

  • Crybabies.

  • Chrome262

    When he says Canadians, its the privileged few who own stock in the company, or run it. You know the large pool of foreign investors, true Canadians. I am sure they get free service. But he does have a point, the government gave them, for free, lots of spectrum. since taxpayers paid for the government, perhaps it is really ours. I think I would rather have my taxes wasted in criminal charges brought up on the big three.

  • Chrome262

    We need to get some lawyers together and get a class action law suit together against the three of them. and we won’t do it about price fixing, we can do it as taxpayers trying to recoup lost tax revenue fighting these law suits.

  • Mr. Mac

    Stop the Greedy 3 from wasting our tax money! Let’s start a tv campaign!!! I really dislike these companies more every day.

  • 1His_Nibs1

    Yeah, I know I was just being a smartass. And I agree about a tax payer lawsuit against them.

  • kkritsilas

    You cannot blame the Big 3 for not allowing the new entrants onto their towers. The tower sharing rules allowed for “imminent usage” and “future usage” as reasons for not allowing new entrants as per the tower sharing rules set in 2007. They are actual terms used in the rules. The Big 3 just called pretty much all available towers unavailable due to “future use” which allowed any potential use of the towers within 2-3 years (don’t remember exactly, and don’t want to take the time to look it up) to over-ride the new entrants request for tower sharing. Fact is, the Feds DID NOT ENFORCE THEIR OWN RULES, and didn’t do the background work to overturn the designation of “future usage”, nor, I am sure, did they continue to monitor if the towers that were designated for “future usage” to make sure that the equipment was deployed. This is on the Feds, not the Big 3.

    The Big 3 are most certainly guilty of deceptive business practices in designating the towers as “future usage”. This was to buy time to allow the new entrants to fail, before they were required to actually deploy equipment. And the Feds, as per my previous statements, let them get away with it.

    Rules without enforcement are nice exercises, but have no relevance in the real world.

    What the Feds should do, is change the rules again. In this case, revise them to allow any one NETWORK one 700 MHz block. This would prevent Bell and Telus from buying up two blocks in any one area, as they are on the same network. This would allow the Big 3 to buy 2 blocks in any one area, not 3. The truth of it is, that with their shared network, Bell and Telus don’t need a block each in any one area.

    Thing is, in the present case, that I don’t even think the courts have any jurisdiction over any of this. These are rules for bidding on spectrum. If the Big 3 don’t like it, DON”T BID. As for taking the Big 3 to court, I ask “on what grounds”? They abided by the lettter of rules as required and outlined above. The Feds are the ones shooting themselves in the foot, the Big 3 just played them for fools, and were right.

    Kostas

  • Chrome262

    LOL I was as well, Just got my bill today, and wife was in the states and made one call, to a hotel. one call cost 27 dollars. Roaming sucks, and its why I welcomed Verizon, I didn’t care if they even were more expensive, roaming is the killer. God it drives me nuts how they complain on how unfair life is for them. So sad that they might not get that diamond encrusted back scratcher this year because of unfair CRTC. Bastards.

  • 1His_Nibs1

    And I guess the big 3’s actions regarding your point have gone very far in influencing the governments steadfastness regarding changing the rules to suit them. If I was MP Moore, I know I would have Rogers et al feeling the sting of retribution for using the vagueness of the terms “imminent usage” & “future usage” to their advantage. I know it’s the governments own doing but now that they’re crying about the rules I’d be glad ( if I was the minister in charge) to point out the very set of facts you point out to the big 3 and ask them why I should accommodate their request. The saying “biting the hand that feeds you” comes to mind. It’s also called Karma.

  • kkritsilas

    The Big 3’s past behavior certainly has prompted the Fed’s “strengthening of the rules regarding tower sharing” which has been trumpeted as a major part of the 700 MHz auction. As I have said above, though, if the rules, no matter how strongly written, are not enforced, they don’t really matter.

    I think the suggestion regarding limiting any Network to one 700 Mhz block in any given area will do more to spark competition than anything else. If there aren’t 4 bidders in any one area, then the Feds get to keep the blocks for future use, shoulld somebody choose to enter the cell service provider market in the future. This is a good way to keep the Big 3 in line.

    That would be the nicest thing I would do as a minister. What I would really like to see is that all spectrum (859, 1800, 1700, 2500/2500, ALL OF IT) currently held by the Big that is unused, be taken back by the Feds, to be offered for bid at some time in the future. As the Big 3 aren’t using the spectrum, and they didn’t pay for it in the first place, it won’t be a financial burden on them to lose that spectrum. This will put an end to the spectrum hoarding that the Big 3 use to keep potential competitors out of the cell service provider marketplace.