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By Randall Palmer and Alastair Sharp
OTTAWA/TORONTO, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Canadian telecom companies paid a record C$5.27 billion ($4.78 billion) in an auction to secure licenses for prime airwaves, the federal government said on Wednesday, as a new national challenger looks set to emerge from Quebec.
The biggest national players - Rogers Communications , BCE Inc's Bell, and Telus Corp - grabbed the lion's share of the 700 megahertz spectrum, on which they plan to build more powerful wireless network.
The spectrum is valued for its ability to carry a signal over long distances and to penetrate buildings, making it useful for both urban and rural deployment.
Rogers was by far the biggest spender, forking out C$3.29 billion, or more than 60 percent of the total, to grab a so-called "prime" block in every region of the country except its three remote northern territories.
But it was the arrival of broader wireless ambitions for Quebecor Inc's Videotron that created the biggest splash, as the regional cable and wireless company expanded its reach outside its mostly French-speaking home base in Quebec.
Quebecor paid C$233 million for airwaves in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, as well as Quebec. Those four provinces combined house much of Canada's population.
Industry Minister James Moore told reporters after the results were made public that the auction had validated Ottawa's goal of promoting four competitors in each region.
Other regional operators were more restrained, with companies focused on the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Atlantic region all acquiring airwaves in their respective home markets.
The auction was completed on Feb. 13, Industry Canada said.