Quebecor accuses BCE, Telus of delay tactics in negotiations over network access

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Quebecor held its annual meeting May 11 in Montreal.Christine Muschi/The Canadian Press

BCE Inc. BCE-T and Telus Corp. TT are dragging their heels in negotiations with Quebecor Inc. QBR-BT regarding granting the Montreal-based telecom access to their wireless networks, Quebecor’s CEO says.

Canada’s telecom regulator ruled in 2021, after a lengthy review, that BCE, Telus, Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-BT and SaskTel must sell wireless network access to regional competitors who are committed to building out their own networks. The rates are to be negotiated between the parties, with a final-offer arbitration available if they cannot reach an agreement.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission finalized those rules on Tuesday, giving companies 90 days to negotiate access agreements. The regulator said it will ensure that deals are reached quickly, and that it expects regional competitors to start selling plans in new markets shortly after those deals are in place.

Quebecor chief executive officer Pierre Karl Péladeau said that although Quebecor has signed agreements with Rogers to roam on the company’s network, BCE and Telus have been using “delay tactics.”

“They have been dragging their feet for years in order to stifle competition,” Mr. Péladeau said during the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Thursday.

“Fortunately, the new CRTC chairperson, Vicky Eatrides, was previously with the Competition Bureau, and she seems determined to put an end to the delay tactics that Bell and Telus are using to at least impede competition, if they don’t block it out right,” he added.

Ellen Murphy, a spokesperson for BCE, called Mr. Péladeau’s claims “without merit.”

“We don’t publicly discuss the status of commercial negotiations out of respect for the parties involved,” Ms. Murphy said in an e-mail.

Richard Gilhooley, a spokesperson for Telus, said in an e-mail that “CRTC policies prohibit us from commenting on the negotiations, but we can confirm that they are ongoing.”

Mr. Péladeau made his comments as Quebecor reported $1.12-billion of revenue during its first quarter, up 2.5 per cent from a year ago when it had $1.09-billion in revenue.

Its profit for the three-month period ended March 31 was $113.5-million, down from $117.1-million as it faced restructuring costs, higher income tax costs and losses on financial instruments.

In April, Quebecor completed its acquisition of Shaw Communications Inc.’s Freedom Mobile, Canada’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, for $2.85-billion. Freedom was being divested as part of Rogers’ $20-billion takeover of Shaw.

Mr. Péladeau declined to provide specifics of the company’s plans for Freedom during Quebecor’s annual shareholder meeting and its first-quarter earnings call. However, he offered several hints, including that Quebecor intends to expand Freedom’s sales channels, which were predominantly focused on physical stores, and to invest $200-million a year in upgrades to Freedom’s network.

The company has promised Ottawa, through written undertakings that come with financial penalties, that it will roll out 5G wireless services quickly and that it will offer prices that are 20 per cent below those offered by the Big Three carriers – BCE, Telus and Rogers – last winter.

Cogeco Inc. is also working to negotiate agreements under the new wireless framework. Marie-Hélène Labrie, a spokesperson for the Montreal-based company, said that while the finalized rules are a positive step, the success of the framework hinges on the ability of smaller competitors such as Cogeco to negotiate reasonable rates.

“In that regard, we are pleased to see the CRTC state that MVNO executed [mobile virtual network operator] access agreements should be in place within 90 days of today’s decision, and that it will consider using ‘all the tools at its disposal’ should this timeframe not be met,” Ms. Labrie said in an e-mail.

With a report from Nicolas Van Praet in Montreal

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