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TORONTO (Reuters) - BCE Inc (BCE.TO), Canada's biggest telecom provider, reported higher profit on flat revenue on Thursday, helped by earnings growth in its wireless and media divisions.
The Montreal-based parent of Bell Canada said it signed up almost 60,000 net postpaid subscribers for its wireless service in the first quarter and the average monthly bill of a Bell wireless customer rose almost 4 percent to C$55.92.
Postpaid subscriber figures are watched closely because those customers, who often sign multiyear contracts and use the latest smartphones, typically pay four times more each month than prepaid subscribers.
Churn, the average proportion of Bell subscribers that cancel their service each month, improved to 1.25 percent for postpaid customers, from 1.35 percent a year earlier.
BCE said its first-quarter net earnings rose to C$566 million, or 73 Canadian cents a share, from C$531 million, or 69 Canadian cents, a year earlier.
Operating revenue was C$4.92 billion, compared with C$4.91 billion a year earlier.
On an adjusted basis, the company earned 77 cents a share. Analysts had on average expected BCE to earn 71 Canadian cents a share on revenue of C$4.96 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
BCE has in recent years moved aggressively to secure ownership of news, sports, films and other content distributed via its television and Internet services.
The company is currently seeking regulatory approval for a revised C$3 billion bid for its biggest content provider, Astral Media Inc ACMa.TO.
The regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, rejected BCE's first offer for Astral in October, citing the inordinate influence it would give BCE. [ID:nL1E8LIF1L]
The company has since agreed to divest some Astral pay and specialty television channels.
But critics told a hearing this week that the smaller deal does not preclude Bell from manipulating the market by setting exorbitant rates for the premium content it owns.
BCE bought CTV, then Canada's largest private broadcaster, in 2011.
Last year, it teamed up with Rogers to buy the owner of the National Hockey League's Toronto Maple Leafs and a stable of other sports assets.
Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Alden Bentley