TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada’s biggest telecom company, BCE Inc, wants rivals big and small to compete without restrictions for valuable spectrum needed to accommodate booming demand for mobile Internet services.
“Everyone’s quite capable of attracting capital, so we should have an open auction,” Chief Executive George Cope told reporters on Thursday. “We’re going through our spectrum at a level I’ve never seen before because of the demand for video.”
BCE recently bought CTV, the country’s biggest private broadcaster, and its Bell Canada unit moved quickly to offer CTV content to customers using tablets and smartphones.
The federal government plans an auction of valuable 700 MHz spectrum, likely in late 2012, which is being freed up as television broadcasters switch from analog to digital delivery.
The low-frequency airwaves are valued for their ability to travel long distances and penetrate thick structures.
“If someone thinks the spectrum is more valuable than Bell does for its shareholders then they should be bidding for that spectrum,” Cope said.
His comments echoed similar sentiments from cable-TV rival Rogers Communications, which boasts Canada’s largest number of wireless subscribers.
But new entrants are eager for Ottawa to again design an airwave auction to benefit them, following a 2008 sales process in which some spectrum was off limits to those already operating wireless services.
Media and communications group Quebecor has suggested caps that would limit how much of the 700 MHz airwaves could be bought by the three big wireless incumbents — Bell and Rogers and Telus — that already own low-frequency spectrum.
Newcomer Globalive — whose foreign funding has sparked a legal battle and rancorous debate about possible changes to ownership legislation — wants the established operators shut out entirely.
Bell’s Cope said any change in the law limiting foreign ownership of a telecom company must be accompanied by a similar change in a law governing broadcasters, as all the major players, as distributors of content, must abide by both pieces of legislation.
“You can’t deal with telecom without dealing with broadcast,” he said.
Reporting by Alastair Sharp; editing by Rob Wilson