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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Industry Minister James Moore, under pressure from Canada's big phone companies to curb the ability of Verizon Communications Inc to set up a wireless operation in Canada, pledged on Wednesday to stay the course in pursuing competition in the industry.
"Our government's telecommunications policy was not created overnight," the new industry minister said on his website (link.reuters.com/waw99t).
"We want all regions of Canada to benefit from competitive market forces, which is why more progress must be made. We will continue to stay the course by ensuring Canadians benefit from a competitive telecommunications industry."
Shares of Canada's biggest wireless companies tumbled last month on news that U.S. telecom giant Verizon is in talks to buy small new entrant operators Wind Mobile and Mobilicity.
Canada's three largest mobile phone service providers - Rogers Communications, BCE Inc's Bell, and Telus Corp - contend that if Verizon enters the Canadian market, it would unfairly benefit from rules designed to encourage competition.
They have launched an intense lobbying and advertising campaign to convince Moore to change the rules that give new entrants certain advantages over established players.
The incumbents are focusing on the upcoming sale of valuable wireless spectrum, used for cell phones.
They say Verizon would have an unfair advantage in being able to acquire more spectrum than they can, in possibly not having to build a rural network and in being able to buy smaller Canadian competitors.
Moore did not address policy specifics, but stated: "Protecting consumers and increasing competition in the wireless market are priorities for Canadians and our Conservative government. Our policy has been clear and remains unchanged: greater competition and liberalized investment has meant more choices at lower prices for Canadian families."
Moore, who took up his post in a July 15 cabinet shuffle, individually met the heads of Canadian phone companies at his request earlier this week.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson, Bernard Orr