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Telus said it could have connected thousands of BC homes with Videotron 5G licenses  

The company is in court challenging the western Canadian licenses awarded to Videotron.

Digestible version:

  • In preparation for a meeting with Telus in October, the ministry of Citizens’ Services noted that Telus said it would be able to connect 3,600 homes with spectrum licenses Videotron won in an auction that summer.
  • Telus is currently in Federal Court challenging Videotron’s auction haul, alleging the Montreal-based company did not qualify for them because it doesn’t have active telecom services in the region.
  • Telus’s meeting would have come in the same month executives from Videotron met personally with Citizens’ Services Minister Lisa Beare and Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff, Videotron told the downUP.
  • It was intended that Pierre Karl Peladeau, CEO of Videotron parent company Quebecor, would attend the meeting, but couldn’t. In August, Peladeau met virtually with Beare.
  • Peladeau’s pursuit of providing wireless services in western Canada would be its first such endeavor, and it comes before regulators are expected to approve a deal that would see Rogers acquire Shaw, another western Canadian player.
  • That deal’s approval will likely turn on the sale of Shaw’s wireless assets, Freedom Mobile, which Rogers has been shopping around to win over regulators, according to reporting from The Globe and Mail.
  • Peladeau has said that his company is interested in purchasing those assets.

Key quote:

“Telus believes if it could deploy the spectrum licence awarded to Videotron, 3,600 households could benefit in B.C.”

Citizens’ Services note ahead of meeting with Telus in October 2021

What this story contributes:

Telus said Videtron’s western Canadian 5G licenses would serve thousands of households if it were under its control.

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Deeper version:

Ahead of a meeting with Telus in late October, the provincial ministry handling telecom affairs in British Columbia said in a preparatory note that the Vancouver-based company said it would be able to connect thousands of homes in the province with 5G licenses already awarded to Videotron.

The meeting occurred around the same time Videotron personnel flew out west to pitch its wireless ambitions with its newly acquired 3.5 GHz licenses, which were auctioned off that summer, but are now being challenged by Telus in Federal Court on the allegation that the Montreal-based company did not qualify for them because it is not actively providing telecom services in western Canada.

“Telus believes that Canada did not follow the [3.5 GHz] auction rules and wants the Federal Court to revoke any spectrum licenses acquired by Quebecor’s Videotron,” the B.C. note said. “Telus believes if it could deploy the spectrum licence awarded to Videotron, 3,600 households could benefit in B.C.”

The Telus meeting came after the Vancouver-based company filed a request in Federal Court to force Innovation Canada, the federal department managing spectrum auctions, to stop the release of the licenses to Videotron pending a final decision by the court. The court denied the request on October 22, just before the separate B.C. meetings with the two companies were set to take place a week after.

Telus, which filed the challenge in September, has argued in court that Videotron does not qualify for the licenses because it allegedly doesn’t actively provide telecommunications services to retail customers, which it said is required by Innovation Canada’s criteria to get the licenses. Videotron said its Fibrenoire subsidiary, which provides fibre services to businesses in the west, allowed it to qualify.

Videotron has been pitching its vision to be the potential fourth wireless player out west if regulators approve Rogers’s acquisition of Shaw, whose Freedom Mobile is the fourth player in some provinces but is expected to be sold off to get that approval. The Globe and Mail has reported that Rogers has been actively shopping the mobile assets, and Videotron has said numerous times it is interested in buying them.

Videotron told the downUP that Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau, who was expected to personally visit Victoria with other Videotron executives during the week of October 25, could not make it, but he did meet with Citizens’ Services minister Lisa Beare virtually in August.

Beside taking out ad space in media outlets last fall about its ambitions, Peladeau also met virtually with editorial boards to discuss the “unfair state of the market for consumers,” how Videotron can “fix the Canadian mobile market and lower consumers’ bills, how Rogers, Bell and Telus “are fighting to stop new mobile providers,” the company told the downUP.  

The exact matter that was discussed in the October meeting with Videotron is unclear, but the general idea can be conveyed from the note. The province was preparing to ask the company about the “extent’ of its planned investment in telecom infrastructure in the province and “how quickly they will deploy the acquired spectrum,” as well as what plans the company has for supporting underserved rural and First Nations communities.

“Videotron has indicated that they plan to invest substantially in B.C., contributing to economic recovery and growth,” the note said. “Cellular competition could also support greater affordability of cellular services to British Columbians.”

Nationally, Videotron was awarded 294 of those 3.5 GHz licenses for nearly $830 million.

Meanwhile, according to the Telus briefing note, Telus was communicating with the B.C. government its frustration about the federal government’s 3.5 GHz set-aside policy, which made a slice of the available licenses exclusive for smaller providers to bid on, including Videotron.

In the note, the province said it supports the notion that providers that don’t use the spectrum licenses they’ve acquired should lose it, otherwise known as the “use it or lose it” policy.  

In fact, according to the note, NDP Premier John Horgan had sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in February 2020 pressing the “importance of taking a balanced approach to auction set-aside rules, enabling competition and the expansion of connectivity to rural areas.”

Photo: Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau

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