UPDATE 1-Canada's Harper says wireless rules do not favor foreign players

Thu Aug 29, 2013 2:12pm EDT
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* Rogers, BCE, Telus say auction rules favor a Verizon

* Auction of wireless spectrum set for January

* Verizon's interest in Canada may be cooling

OTTAWA, Aug 29 (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday disputed claims by his country's leading wireless companies that his government's telecommunications rules give unfair advantages to foreign players like Verizon Communications Inc.

Canada's three biggest wireless companies - Rogers Communications, BCE Inc and Telus Corp - are asking the Conservative government to rethink its rules for next January's auction of wireless spectrum, saying the playing field is slanted in favor of a Verizon.

Verizon had signaled a tentative interest in entering the Canadian market, but there is speculation more recently that its interest is waning, reinforced on Thursday when Vodafone Group Plc said it was in talks with Verizon to sell its stake in Verizon Wireless, the No. 1 U.S. mobile carrier. .

"The reality of the situation here is there is no special rule or special loopholes for foreign companies," Harper told reporters in Toronto.

"There are rules that assist all new entrants, whether they be Canadian or foreign, to enter the marketplace and provide competition that will be in the interest of Canadian consumers," he said.

Under rules the government says are designed to increase competition and drive down prices for consumers, new entrants can bid in the auction for two of four prime blocks of the spectrum that wireless companies need to operate mobile services, while the existing big players can bid for only one block apiece.   Continued...