Last week, Rogers announced its fourth quarter earnings, reporting a 25 per cent increase in net income to C$508 million, up from C$405 million in the same quarter a year earlier.
The company said that its profits were mainly driven by the growth in its wireless (up seven per cent) and media (up 17 per cent) operations, from higher roaming revenue as travel restrictions lifted, as well as improved returns on its advertising and sports-related revenue, including the Toronto Blue Jays franchise.
Rogers also announced its earnings guidance, predicting growth of 4-7 per cent for 2023, while capital spending is expected to be between C$3.1 billion and C$3.3 billion, compared with C$3.03 billion last year.
Last year’s capital spending was focused on investments in its networks, expanding its 5G network and improving network reliability, as well as separating its wireless and wireline networks.
The guidance excluded the financial penalties that Rogers repeatedly flagged as a risk to accelerate a decision on its C$26 billion merger deal with Shaw before its closing date, now extended to Feb.17. However, Rogers said that its guidance will be reassessed once the Shaw transaction has closed.
The telecom giant said it could not comment more on the deal as it is under government review but reiterated its commitment to ensure increased competition. “There will continue to be four strong wireless competitors in Alberta and British Columbia, and the decision goes further, concluding that Québecor will be a more disruptive wireless carrier and Rogers will inject a new and substantial source of competition.” said Rogers CEO, Tony Staffieri.
The fate of the two-year-long merger battle is now in the hands of Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, who said last week that he is in no hurry to render a verdict.
As part of this final decision, Minister Champagne will have to assess if Québecor will emerge as a strong competitor after the merger or be too dependent on Rogers, a key matter of contention during the November 2022 Competition Tribunal hearings that ruled in favor of the merger.
Critics have argued that the pre-conditional sale of Shaw’s Freedom Mobile to Vidéotron as a remedy for competition is based on unlawful wholesale agreements with Rogers.
Independent internet service provider (ISP) TekSavvy has echoed these concerns in a motion to the CRTC, requesting the regulator review the Rogers proposal to provide Vidéotron with access to its network at below market rates, illegal under the Telecommunications Act, according to TekSavvy. In a recent application, the ISP also accused Bell of doing the same with newly-acquired subsidiary EBox, and is asking the commission either to nullify these wholesale agreements or apply them universally to competitors until next steps are determined.
Mark Goldberg, senior consultant in the telecommunications industry, argued that TekSavvy’s complaint is inaccurate, as it is asking the CRTC to rule on the hypothetical assumption that preferential rates have already been granted to Vidéotron by Rogers. He said in a tweet; “A valid complaint might seek to ensure agreements are indeed filed in conformance with #CRTC policies, but it seems premature to claim a preference exists, until it actually does.”
Staffieri barely addressed the competition concerns during the earnings call, and stated that a bigger Vidéotron will lead to increased competition but Rogers will not be hurt by it, a message aimed at assuaging concerns of both investors and the minister. He added that there are a number of dynamics in the telecom sector, and that profits for Vidéotron does not automatically mean losses for Rogers. “We have thrived in a competitive landscape in the past,” said Staffieri.