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Level playing field is needed: Rogers

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Big U.S. carriers like Verizon shouldn't be allowed to buy new Canadian wireless companies at discount prices while the big domestic carriers are barred from the same opportunity, the CEO of Rogers Communications said Wednesday.

Rogers welcomes competition but wants a level playing field, chief executive officer Nadir Mohamed told analysts after the Toronto-based wireless, cable and media company released its second-quarter financial results.

"What we're absolutely against is a tilted or stacked playing field where you have a massive incumbent U.S. carrier that would be given favourable treatment, and, frankly, better treatment than Canadian incumbents," Mohamed said. "We can't have a U.S. foreign incumbent be allowed to buy new entrants at depressed pricing by blocking the ability of incumbent Canadian players to do the same. So it's about parity."

There have been reports Verizon wants to enter the Canadian market and is planning to buy new carrier Wind Mobile while also in talks with financially struggling Mobilicity -- two of the new generation of wireless carriers competing with Rogers, Telus and Bell.

The federal government blocked major carrier Telus from buying Mobilicity since the smaller company's spectrum licence doesn't expire until 2014. The industry minister at the time, Christian Paradis, made it clear in June the federal government wants to increase competition in the wireless market and aims to create the conditions necessary to have a fourth national carrier.

Since the July 15 cabinet shuffle, the minister has been James Moore, but the Harper government has repeatedly said it favours increasing competition to provide consumers with better prices and more innovation. It has removed foreign-investment restrictions for wireless companies that have less than a 10 per cent market share.

Mohamed said Rogers favours opening foreign investment for large telecom players too, which can't be more than one-third foreign owned.

"If the Canadian government decides to open up foreign ownership, it should open it up for everybody," he told reporters later.

Mohamed said four wireless carriers have never been sustainable in Canada and the norm is three per country.

Mohamed said if Verizon were to enter Canada's wireless market, large urban markets would benefit more than smaller and rural markets. If Verizon comes to Canada, it should be required to roll out networks and not to "cherry pick" on the new wireless companies' existing networks and it should face the same limits on acquiring spectrum, radio waves over which cellphone networks operate, that Rogers and others face, Mohamed said.

Verizon has almost 100 million wireless customers in the U.S. Rogers is Canada's largest wireless provider with about 10 million customers.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2013 0

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