UPDATE 3-Canada blocks Rogers/Bell JV from grabbing more airwaves

Thu Feb 27, 2014 5:57pm EST
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By Euan Rocha and Alastair Sharp

TORONTO Feb 27 (Reuters) - Canada blocked a joint venture of two of the country's biggest wireless telephone carriers from acquiring more airwaves on Thursday, sending the latest pointed message that their dominant positions would be challenged in the fight to win over consumers.

The government said it had declined a request to transfer 83 wireless spectrum licenses from NextWave to Inukshuk, which is owned by Rogers Communications and BCE Inc's Bell Canada unit.

The decision may set an important precedent for a string of other spectrum deals being plotted as telecom companies rush to buy up as many prized airwaves as possible.

Canada's Industry Minister James Moore said in a brief statement the sale of the 2.3 GHz airwave licenses would have created unacceptable levels of concentration of spectrum in the hands of incumbent carriers, hurting competition in regions including Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and many mid-sized cities.

The government said Bell and Rogers would have grown their combined claims on available 2.3 GHz spectrum to 77 percent from 29 percent, if the deal had been allowed to proceed.

Bell said it had planned to use the spectrum in an expansion of its latest network to rural and remote areas, while Rogers said it wanted it to help handle heavy data use.

Both companies, however, said the rejection would not affect their respective coverage plans.   Continued...