Canada's Quebecor says nearing decision on mobile expansion

Thu Jul 31, 2014 1:56pm EDT
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By Alastair Sharp

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian telecom and media conglomerate Quebecor Inc says it is closing in on a decision on whether to buy up smaller competitors or team up with a partner to expand its wireless operations outside its home province of Quebec.

On the company's quarterly earnings call on Thursday, executives said they are talking to several potential partners about plans to become Canada's fourth national wireless player, a move that would fulfill a key goal of the federal government's telecom policy.

"Critical to our vision is an urgent need for fair and competitive, federally regulated roaming policy," Chief Executive Pierre Dion told analysts on the call, stressing that Ottawa must guarantee an affordable way for it to use its rivals' networks.

Montreal-based Quebecor bought wireless airwaves across much of Canada earlier this year but its services - cable TV, Internet, landline and mobile telephony - are now mostly offered in Quebec. Analysts say an expansion could lock up capital for years, while the regulator's timetable for setting new wholesale wireless rules may stretch past the next auction of wireless airwaves.

Quebecor would only be able to fully participate in that auction if it already held operating assets in each region.

The head of Quebecor's wireless and cable arm said the company is now evaluating whether to purchase an existing network or build out a national network, and that the decision is expected in weeks or months.

Two struggling young wireless operators, Wind Mobile and Mobilicity, are up for sale after each bought spectrum licenses reserved for newcomers in a 2008 auction. Since then, Ottawa has repeatedly blocked the two from falling into the hands of Canada's three biggest phone companies: Telus Corp, BCE Inc's Bell, and Rogers Communications.


Pierre Dion, president and chief executive officer of Quebecor and Quebecor Media arrives for their annual meeting in Montreal, June 19, 2014. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi