TORONTO — A timeline of key developments in the Toronto Transit Commission wireless network access saga:
Dec. 5, 2012: The TTC, as part of a public procurement, awards BAI Communications a contract that would see it develop a wireless network in the Toronto subway system. Australia-based BAI agrees to pay $25 million to the TTC over a 20-year term.
June 17, 2015: BAI Canada and the TTC sign on the subway system’s first cellular carrier, Wind Mobile, whose customers become the only ones to have access to service on select TTC platforms and tunnels. Wind, later bought by Shaw Communications Inc. and rebranded as Freedom Mobile, was purchased by Quebecor Inc.’s Videotron in April 2023.
March 10, 2023: In a letter to TTC board chair Jon Burnside and TTC CEO Rick Leary, Bell says it had become aware of negotiations that could see Rogers become the wireless network provider for the subway system, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press. Bell urges the TTC to use its right of approval to “adopt a consortium approach as part of any new arrangement for the provision of wireless services in the subway system.”
March 25, 2023: The stabbing death of 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes at Keele subway station is the latest of several violent incidents on the TTC and brings fresh scrutiny to the issue of transit safety. Toronto city council passes a motion by Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie five days later urging the city to “call on all cellphone providers” to ensure mobile service is available across the subway system.
April 4, 2023: Amid mounting pressure on Rogers, Bell and Telus to provide wireless service on the TTC, Rogers says it recognizes “connectivity plays an important role in public safety and we are committed to being part of the solution.”
April 10, 2023: Rogers and BAI Communications announce a deal that will see the telecommunications giant acquire the latter’s Canadian operations, along with the exclusive rights to the TTC’s wireless network. The CRTC says it is monitoring developments related to the deal “to determine what role, if any,” it has to play.
April 12, 2023: Speaking at a lunch hosted by Canadian Club Toronto, Rogers president and CEO Tony Staffieri pledges the subway network “will work for everybody” regardless of carrier. He reveals talks with BAI began around a year before reaching a deal as Rogers had been hearing from customers returning to downtown offices amid the pandemic that they wanted connectivity on the subway.
April 19, 2023: Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, who regulates wireless spectrum, calls on the country’s major telecom companies to come to an agreement over TTC wireless service. He gives the companies 30 days to respond with details of their respective statuses on the issue and outlining a joint plan to offer mobile service to all customers.
April 19, 2023: Bell president and CEO Mirko Bibic responds to Champagne, writing in a letter that his company would only take part in the TTC network if it has a chance to help build it with the other carriers as part of a consortium model.
April 24, 2023: Rogers closes its purchase of BAI Communications’ Canadian operations.
April 28, 2023: Speaking to reporters, Champagne vows to step in and “take action” if Canada’s major telecom providers don’t reach an agreement to ensure wireless service is available for all TTC subway riders.
May 23, 2023: Rogers sends Champagne a proposal outlining a plan to negotiate agreements with all carriers to join the network with a deadline of Aug. 15 — after which arbitration would begin if a deal is not reached. The proposal outlines that Rogers would act as the lead carrier of the upgraded network, but the company would make the system accessible for other mobile carriers.
June 16, 2023: Bell requests the CRTC intervene in the dispute by ordering Rogers to allow other carriers to connect to the network “as soon as technically feasible” under a consortium model and prevent Rogers from giving its own customers first access to the network.
June 23, 2023: The CRTC urges all stakeholders “to work together to resolve what mainly appear to be contractual and technical matters” in order to “avoid the need for unnecessary regulatory intervention.” The CRTC file remains open.
June 30, 2023: The Canadian Press reveals the TTC expected Rogers to proceed with its build of the subway’s upgraded cellular network under a consortium model, according to a briefing note sent to the City of Toronto’s TTC board of commissioners on April 10.
July 12, 2023: TTC CEO Rick Leary’s monthly report to the TTC board says Rogers’ upgrades to cellular infrastructure on the downtown portion of the subway network would be complete prior to the start of the school year in September. The report is mum on whether Rogers would wait for an agreement to be reached with its rival carriers before launching service.
July 24, 2023: Champagne announces an expedited consultation process to revise the licences of all four of Canada’s major wireless carriers “to ensure that all TTC riders have coverage, including 911 service, in all tunnels and stations, followed by voice, data and text as soon as technically feasible.”
Aug. 8, 2023: In its submission to the federal government, Rogers says it “strongly opposes” a measure being considered by Ottawa that would prevent the company from giving its customers first access to the subway’s upgraded wireless network. However, Rogers says it prefers to solve the impasse with its rivals through commercial negotiations.
Aug. 23, 2023: Rogers launches 5G wireless service for its own customers in stations and tunnels throughout much of the downtown core despite Champagne’s ongoing consultation that was set to close five days later and much to the ire of Bell and Telus.
Aug. 28, 2023: Parties submit their final comments in the federal consultation process and await a decision from Champagne.
Sept. 11, 2023: Champagne outlines the new licence conditions and sets an Oct. 3 deadline for customers of all carriers to have access to the wireless network in the subway while individual companies negotiate deals. He says those deals must be completed by Dec. 20.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2023.
Companies in this story: (TSX:RCI.B, TSX:BCE, TSX:T, TSX:QBR.B)
Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press