All TTC subway riders getting cellphone service starting Oct. 3, federal minister says


All riders on Toronto's subway system will have cellphone service starting Oct. 3, the Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry announced on Monday.

Speaking at a news conference at Toronto City Hall, François-Philippe Champagne had a strong message for Canada's major telecom providers: "enough is enough."

"That is the message that I'm sending to the telcos on behalf of millions of TTC riders who have been very, very patient," he said. "We are forcing the telcos to ensure that all subway users, regardless of the service providers they have, have access to mobile services by Oct. 3."

Champagne said that following an expedited public consultation process, "the licences of all major carriers will be revised to ensure that all TTC riders will now be able to have coverage in the subway system in Toronto."

The lack of phone service for most Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) riders has been a growing concern since 2012, when Australia's BAI Communications was awarded a $25-million contract to build and operate the TTC's public Wi-Fi and cellular network.

Freedom Mobile was the only company to sign on to provide coverage to its customers.

For more than a decade, customers not with Freedom have been unable to use BAI's network except for 911 emergency calling, but calls to make the system work for all Torontonians resurfaced earlier this year after a recent spate of violent incidents on the TTC.

The telecom companies have clashed for months over TTC network access and the commercial terms around it.

In August, Rogers Communications Inc. rolled out 5G wireless service to its customers in core parts of the city's downtown subway network, but a feud continues with other major carriers over terms of access for all transit riders.

Rogers has vowed to make the upgraded system accessible for other mobile carriers to provide wireless coverage to their customers. That includes honouring BAI's previous contract with Freedom Mobile.

Bell and Telus both have advocated for a joint build of the subway's 5G network using a consortium model similar to that of Montreal's Metro system, rather than a pay-for-access approach. Rogers has not publicly committed to either model.

However, Champagne said "it is simply unacceptable" that the more than 2 million people who use the subway daily "still do not have access to wireless services."