Bell launches court case against roaming/infrastructure sharing obligations

10 Sep 2013

Bell Canada Enterprises’ (BCE’s) cellular unit Bell Mobility has launched a legal petition in the Federal Court (‘Bell Mobility Inc vs the Attorney General of Canada, file number T-1474-13’) arguing that the government does not have the right to force it to share its mobile infrastructure and seeking a judicial review of recent regulatory changes to roaming and network sharing obligations, Reuters reports. Bell’s action is specifically aimed at blocking regulatory measures which oblige it and Canada’s other two national mobile network operators Rogers and Telus to offer roaming facilities to rivals indefinitely as well as sharing their wireless towers with competitors winning licences in the upcoming 4G auction early next year.

TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database says that under a plan to support competition and access to network roaming/tower sharing for new entrants, Industry Canada announced in March 2012 that it intended to alter roaming/tower sharing policies (introduced in 2008) through the following:

- extending roaming provisions indefinitely and expanding them to all carriers;

- requiring carriers to make available basic information on all towers to improve transparency and expedite the sharing process; and

- shortening the timelines for arbitration between companies negotiating roaming/tower sharing agreements.

In March 2013 Industry Canada finalised these measures under the ‘Revised Frameworks for Mandatory Roaming and Antenna Tower and Site Sharing’, including conditions of licensing to prohibit exclusive site arrangements, aimed at accelerating 4G mobile broadband expansion following the ‘digital dividend’ 700MHz 4G licence auction scheduled for January 2014.

In its legal objection to the regulations, filed on 30 August 2013, Bell Mobility is represented by law firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon.

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of filings from major operators questioning Canada’s mobile policy. Bell’s rival Telus filed an application with the Federal Court on 20 August challenging the power of the country’s Industry Minister to set criteria dictating which companies can bid for wireless frequency licences in the upcoming 4G auction. This followed a case Telus launched in July opposing the Industry Minister’s power to make unilateral changes to spectrum licence transfer policy. Meanwhile, Canada’s ‘Consumer Code’ regulations (under which, from December 2013 all consumers will be allowed to cancel existing three-year mobile contracts after two years without penalty) has been taken to the Federal Court of Appeal by a group of operators including Rogers, Bell and Telus.