Opposition is mounting to a spectrum
deal with Shaw Communications Inc, which gives Rogers Communications first crack at buying Shaw’s cellular frequencies ahead of competitors.
Five consumer and public interest groups said Tuesday they have signed a joint letter to Industry Minister Christian Paradis demanding the Harper government nix the deal and preserve the spectrum for new wireless companies only.
“This proposed deal is the first step back to (there being) only three big providers: Rogers, Telus and Bell,” said John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, one of the groups pressing the government.
The others are the Consumers’ Association of Canada (CAC), openmedia.ca, the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) and the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations of British Columbia (COSCO).
These groups aren’t the only ones heated over the proposed deal, which needs government and regulatory approval.
Wind Mobile chairman Anthony Lacavera has the spectrum deal “an abomination of the rules.” In an email today after word of the interest group letter broke, Lacavera said Wind will be making a submission to the government emphasizing that the proposed deal "is a violation of the 2008 AWS set-aside policy rules."
However, in an interview Ken Engelhart, Rogers senior vice-president of regulatory affairs, said the deal is in the public interest because Shaw isn't using the spectrum.
The spectrum Shaw wants to sell is $190 million in frequencies in the AWS band largely in Western Canada it bought in the 2008 spectrum auction. Those particular frequencies were among a group set aside by the government for new wireless entrants so incumbents couldn’t sweep up all the spectrum and keep out competition.
In fact one of the licence rules forbids incumbents like Rogers from buying spectrum of new entrants for five years after they got their licences, which for most new cellular companies should be the spring of 2014.
Among those who bought set-aside spectrum were Shaw, Wind, Mobilicity and Quebec cable company Videotron.
Shaw hoped to follow Rogers' lead as a cable company that also has its own cellular network. However, it decided in 2011 that building a new cellular network is too expensive, and instead chose to build a less expensive Wi-Fi network. As a result, it wants to sell the spectrum.
Last week as part of a $700 million deal selling the Shaw-owned cable licence in Hamilton, Ont., Rogers got an option to buy the spectrum. To comply with the five-year no-sale rule, the option doesn’t kick in until September 2014.