Bell MTS pledge to build more LTE ‘a bit of a stunt,’ says PIAC

The $3.9 billion acquisition deal between BCE Inc. and Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. may be the subject of a Competition Bureau review, but that didn’t stop Bell from sharing part of its investment plans should the deal be approved, with an announcement on Friday.

The newly formed entity would seek to push out Bell’s LTE network on Manitoba’s Highway 75, which sees spotty coverage in certain areas, according to Bell. It’s part of the $1 billion commitment Bell has made to expand broadband wireless and fibre communication services in Manitoba once its deal closes.

“Bell MTS will hit the ground running in Manitoba with major new investments in broadband communications, including the completion of a full wireless coverage along this critical transportation route,” said Wade Oosterman, group president of BCE in a press release.

Bell confirmed to IT World Canada that while MTS will begin the work of securing tower sites and permits now, the project will be fully completed after the acquisition is closed. It anticipates that will happen at the end of 2016 or in early 2017.

The move to bolster wireless coverage on Highway 75 drew support from Manitoba’s premier, who is also quoted in the press release. Premier Brian Pallister was also quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press, saying “we’ve had cheaper, limited services. Now we get better service.”

Following Bell’s stated intention to acquire MTS May 3, the Competition Bureau stated its intent to review the deal May 10. It invited Canadians to share their views.

For John Lawford, the executive director at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), the announcement looks like a way to justify imposing more expensive service on Manitobans.

“It’s a bit of a stunt,” he said. “It’s meant to try and convince the public that if they have to pay more for telecom service after Bell buys MTS, at least it will be faster and available in more places.”

He also questions why the Premier would support the announcement.

“Did you do any polling in your province?” he added. “If the province wants to make a comment to the Bureau, they’re allowed to. If they’re in favour of it, then there’s just one more force lined up against consumers in Manitoba.”

Lawford expects that if Bell is to acquire MTS, that overall wireless plan prices in the province will go up. Having four competitors in the market has resulted in Manitoba residents enjoying some of the best rates in the country, he said, adding with only three competitors, prices would likely rise to be in line with other provinces.

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Former editorial director of IT World Canada. Current research director at Info-Tech

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