Letter to telecom service providers regarding connectivity on Toronto's subway system

Mirko Bibic
President and Chief Executive Officer
BCE Inc. and Bell Canada
1 Carrefour Alexander-Graham-Bell
Building A, 4th Floor
Verdun, Québec  H3E 3B3

Darren Entwistle
President and Chief Executive Officer
TELUS Communications Inc.
510 West Georgia Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
V6B 0M3

Pierre Karl Péladeau
President and Chief Executive Officer
Québecor Inc.
612 Saint-Jacques Street
Montréal, Québec  H3C 4M8                 

Tony Staffieri
President and Chief Executive Officer
Rogers Communications Canada Inc.
333 Bloor Street East
Toronto, Ontario  M4W 1G9 

Dear Mirko Bibic, Darren Entwistle, Pierre Karl Péladeau, and Tony Staffieri:

Canadians across the country depend on telecommunications services to conduct business, apply to jobs, access government services, and stay in touch with their loved ones. Access to reliable services – and in particular access to emergency services – is a critical public safety matter.

That is why I announced the Government of Canada's Telecommunications Reliability Agenda, organized around the three pillars: robust networks and systems; strengthening accountability; and coordinated planning and preparedness. This agenda complements a range of government efforts to improve the reliability and availability of telecommunications services, including an ambitious set of investments to expand and upgrade connectivity in rural and remote areas.

Additionally, there are several mechanisms and arrangements for coordinating mobile wireless (cellular) coverage, network access, and roaming between carriers. These include commercial arrangements, roaming at regulated rates available to certain operators as set by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, and conditions of licence on commercial mobile spectrum licences regarding mandated roaming between carriers as administered by Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada. All of these processes support the ability of Canadians to use telecom services no matter where they are, but more work must be done in order to close remaining gaps.

As you are no doubt aware, Toronto City Council as well as city residents have recently expressed substantial concerns regarding the availability of mobile wireless services within Toronto's subway system. To date, only Freedom Mobile has provided its services along the Toronto subway system using infrastructure deployed by BAI Communications Inc. This has left many riders without access to mobile services along subway lines and has raise concerns around public safety. While 9-1-1 calls can be completed where there is coverage regardless of the subscriber's choice of provider, this may not be well known. Furthermore, there is a lack of general calling and data services. This connectivity supports a range of uses that strengthens public safety beyond emergency services, such as access to the 9-8-8 suicide crisis line once operational. I share the concerns voiced by users of the Toronto subway system about a lack of access to these important services.

I have taken note of Rogers Communications recent announcement to acquire BAI Communications, expand coverage, and commence offering services to its customers. However, arrangements are still not in place to ensure service is available more broadly.

I expect that, as Canada's largest mobile wireless service providers operating within the Greater Toronto Area, you will be able to rapidly come to an arrangement that enables all riders to access wireless services along Toronto's subway system, building on progress made to date in expanding connectivity along the entire system.

I am requesting that you work to not only rectify this situation with the urgency that it deserves, given the public safety considerations involved, but also to reassure Canadians that their concerns have been heard. I further request that you conclude discussions to reach an agreement for access and service where none exists and, in the case of Freedom Mobile, to confirm the continued status of that arrangement. Finally, I am requesting that you respond to this letter within 30 days detailing the status of the situation for your respective company and outlining a joint plan to offer mobile service to all subscribers. I ask that this include your planned treatment of 9-8-8 calling in this context.

I thank you for your attention to this vital issue. I remain committed to working together to ensure Canadians have access to mobile connectivity across the country given its importance for public safety and economic opportunity.

Sincerely,

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, P.C., M.P.