5 things to know about feedback to Champagne’s TTC wireless service consultation

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Rogers pushing for option to launch TTC cellular service before deal struck with other carriers
WATCH ABOVE: Rogers pushing for option to launch TTC cellular service before deal struck with other carriers – Aug 21, 2023

Canada’s four major telecommunications companies have one week left to respond to one another’s submissions as part of a federal consultation process regarding wireless access on the Toronto subway.

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne wants to expedite negotiations between the carriers, which had come to a standstill after Rogers Communications Inc. bought the TTC’s existing wireless network and signalled plans to further build it out. Rogers, Bell Canada, Telus Corp. and Quebecor Inc. had until Aug. 8 to submit responses to Champagne’s proposed solutions.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada plans to post a decision following a review of those responses, which would then trigger a proposed 30-day window for the carriers to complete negotiations or face arbitration.

Here are five highlights from the submissions:

Rogers accused of delaying access

In response to Ottawa’s proposals, Bell and Telus reiterated long-standing objections to Rogers’ handling of the negotiation process.

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Bell said it has still “not been provided with any technical information regarding the existing wireless infrastructure” and “we do not have any information on the planned upgrades contemplated by Rogers and the TTC.”

The company accused Rogers of making minimal efforts to advance negotiations when faced with the threat of regulatory intervention and that “in every instance, it subsequently withdrew these actions as soon as the threat has passed.”

Telus argued Rogers has strategically delayed negotiations in an attempt to get a head start in providing wireless access to subway riders during the period from

September to January, typically the busiest sales season.

For its part, Rogers said it has attempted to negotiate in good faith with its rivals from the outset and proposed its own framework to help reach a deal. Apart from Quebecor, whose Freedom Mobile is already linked to the TTC’s network, Rogers said major carriers have refused to accept its framework, “with Bell preferring instead to focus efforts on misleading public relations tactics.”

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Bell wants tighter timelines

Bell and Telus both urged the government to prevent Rogers from providing its own customers first access to wireless services on the TTC. Those companies said Rogers should be made to wait until it is technically feasible for all riders to use the mobile network, while Rogers argued that timing should be left to commercial negotiations.

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But if Champagne decides timing of access for consumers should be tied to either negotiations or an arbitration process, Bell said “much shorter timelines” should be mandated for that process since discussion of key issues has already begun.

Rather than a 30-day window for talks, Bell said 10 days would be enough before arbitration is needed. It proposed arbitration last no more than 30 days, down from ISED’s suggestion of 70.

Rogers pushes back against mandatory timelines

Under ISED’s proposals, each carrier would be required to offer voice, text and data services in all TTC stations within six months and 80 per cent of subway tunnels within two years after either negotiations or arbitration have concluded. Each company would have to offer cellular cervices in all TTC tunnel areas within three years.

But Rogers told Ottawa “it would be unfair and highly inappropriate” to mandate such specific timelines, especially when it comes to building the infrastructure needed for wireless connectivity in subway tunnels. It said that unlike aboveground builds, the subway system doesn’t offer carriers the same flexibility in terms of network design.

“While Rogers currently projects that coverage will be expanded … throughout the entire subway system, including tunnels, in approximately two years, its ability to do so is contingent on the construction windows and site access set by the TTC,” its filing stated.

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Rogers said it “strongly recommends” ISED refrain from outlining deployment timelines when it comes to tunnel access and amend its recommendation to require that cellular connectivity be available at all subway stations within a year — double what Ottawa proposed.

Other groups support simultaneous access

Ottawa’s consultation also heard from a coalition of nine organizations, led by the TTCriders advocacy group, which called for a speedy resolution to the ongoing dispute between the carriers. The coalition sided with the position of Bell and Telus when it comes to potentially restricting Rogers from providing its own customers first access to the TTC’s wireless network.

They said it is concerning that Rogers is seemingly “refusing to work with other service providers to allow access to their infrastructure” and called a delay or denial of access for other providers “unacceptable.”

“The public’s need to stay connected throughout Toronto’s primary transit system must come first. We urge the ISED on behalf of the Minister to ensure that all transit users, regardless of who their provider is, gain access to cellular service within the TTC as soon as possible.”

The coalition also includes OpenMedia, Woman Abuse Council of Toronto, A Voice for Transit, CodeRedTO, Leadnow, Social Planning Toronto, Toronto Youth Cabinet and YWCA Toronto.

Toronto Police urges new system be ready by early 2025

In its submission, the Toronto Police Service emphasized the importance of a swift resolution to the standoff.

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The police service said it “would be ideal” if the entire upgraded network was ready for use by the end of the first quarter of 2025.

It also said it believed the likelihood of successful negotiations between the carriers is “slim” as it recommended that Ottawa require Rogers to provide access to its rival carriers through commercial roaming arrangements rather than the joint build sought by Bell and Telus.

“Time is of the essence for connectivity in the TTC subway. There is no time to waste negotiating with other potential spectrum licensees for mutually agreeable terms.”

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