New Industry Minister won’t say when digital strategy and telecom ownership rules will be released. Meanwhile, a Rogers executive sent him a warning

Paradis mum on telecom timetable

If newly-appointed Industry Minister Christian Paradis didn’t know how rough some of the wireless carriers will be on him as the government wrestles with setting the rules for upcoming spectrum auctions, he just got his first lesson.

In a keynote address Tuesday at the Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto, Rogers Communications Inc. president Rob Bruce said it would be “a slap in the face” to his company’s subscribers if the department limits the ability of some carriers to buy spectrum.

Startups like Wind Mobile, Mobilicity and Public Mobile have told Ottawa that operators like Rogers, BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada and Telus Corp. should either be limited or forbidden from buying spectrum in upcoming auctions because they area allegedly sitting on a lot of unused frequencies. But incumbent carriers have vigorously fought back, no one more than Rogers.

But in a scrum with reporters after giving his own speech, Paradis shrugged off the comment. “This is a view,” he said.

“Some companies have shared with me their concerns [on spectrum caps or set asides for certain bidders], and they all have good points. So I think idea is here to make sure we balance the things in best interest of Canada. So we’ll have to work on it in the next few months.”

He also said that the auction rules, changes to foreign telecom ownership and the promised digital economy strategy are a priority, but gave no sign of when the government will announce policy.

And while consultations on foreign telecom ownership and spectrum needs of carriers have finished, Paradis announced that consultations on spectrum auction designs and licence conditions for winners will be held later this year. This could delay setting a date for upcoming auctions.

The industry hopes that at least the 700 MHz auction will be held next year largely because its spectral efficiency makes it idea to deploy the next generation of high speed wireless data technology called LTE.

 The previous government said it couldn’t set the auction rules before deciding on foreign telecom ownership changes, for that will affect who will be eligible to bid on spectrum in upcoming auctions.

In addition to spectrum in the 700 MHz band, it also wants to sell spectrum in the 2500 MHz band. Industry Canada has yet to decide if they will be sold separately or at the same time.

Paradis also said that his department is looking at other spectrum it might be able to auction.

That’s significant at a conference where the majority of speakers insisted carriers are running out of spectrum because of the ever-increasing demands of mobile users.

In his speech, Bruce said wireless carriers are facing “unprecedented” growth in wireless data, and urged Ottawa to match the speed of spectrum release in the U.S. There, he noted, four and a half years after a 700 MHz auction, some carriers have already started to deploy next-generation LTE wireless data networks.

Rogers will start deploying LTE at the end of the year in select cities using the AWS spectrum in higher bands it bought in 2008, as will Bell and Telus. However, they prefer to deploy it in the 700 MHz band. Startups, on the other hand, fear the incumbents and their hefty pocketbooks will outbid them without help from Ottawa.

Which is why Bruce sent his tough message to Paradis, shaping the debate as a matter of national survival.

“The government must ensure the 700 Mhz auction is fair and open,” he said, with no special rules for small carriers. “This is critical for the future of our digital economy. This is critical for the deployment of LTE in Canada.”

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