OTTAWA — The federal government said Wednesday that 43 per cent of the 600 megahertz wireless spectrum to be auctioned next year will be set aside for regional carriers and potential new rivals to Canada's three national carriers.
The minister responsible for economic development and telecommunications, Navdeep Bains, said the auction to be held in March 2019 is designed to improve the mobile phone landscape and support competition.
Critics of Canada's current market have said consumers a forced to pay some the world's highest prices for wireless while supporters say Canadians also have access to some of the world's fastest, most advanced networks.
Bains has consistently said competition is the way to drive both innovation and affordable telecommunications.
The framework released Wednesday covers a band of frequencies that has several significant properties, such as the ability to penetrate structures and travel over long distances — making it useful in both rural and urban areas.
In the past, much of the 600 MHz spectrum was allocated to conventional television broadcasters. But the shift to digital TV has freed up some spectrum for other purposes.
A similar process happened previously with the 700 MHz band, which resulted in a 2014 auction that raised $5.27 billion for the federal government — then controlled by the Conservative Party under Stephen Harper.
Successive Liberal and Conservative industry ministers have pushed to introduce more competition for Canada's three biggest national carriers, Rogers Communications Inc., BCE's Bell Canada and Telus Corp.
But the former Wind Mobile, which has since been acquired by Shaw Communications Inc. and renamed Freedom Mobile, didn't acquire any of the 700 MHz spectrum. The biggest purchase by a regional carrier was from Quebecor's Videotron at $233.3 million followed by a $20.3 million spend by Bragg Communications, which operates as Eastlink.
In contrast, Rogers was the biggest spender, accounting for nearly $3.3 billion of the total. Telus came in a distant second at just over $1.1 billion, and Bell was third at $565.7 million.
Companies in this story: (TSX:RCI.B, TSX:T, TSX:BCE, TSX:SJR.B, TSX:QBR.B)
The Canadian Press