Cell service must be provided by all carriers on TTC as of Oct. 3, minister says


The federal government is mandating that all wireless carriers in Canada offer cellular service on the TTC’s subway system by the beginning of October.

During a news conference in Toronto on Monday morning, Francois-Philippe Champagne, the federal minister of innovation, science, and industry, said new spectrum licence conditions will require carriers to provide all passengers on Toronto’s subway system with access to cellular connectivity no later than Oct. 3, 2023.

“It is simply unacceptable that so many subway riders still do not have access to wireless services,” Champagne said Monday.

“Cellular connectivity on the subway is about more than just convenience. It is a critical public safety matter. TTC passengers have waited too long to access cellular services when riding the subway.”

In April, Rogers Communications Inc. bought the Canadian operations of BAI Communications, the owner of the rights to provide wireless service on the Toronto subway.

At the end of last month, Rogers rolled out high-speed 5G service to its own customers on the subway in much of the downtown core despite vowing to work with other carriers to provide access to the system.

An ongoing public consultation process was initiated by the federal government in July to provide a pathway for all carriers, including Bell and Telus, to have access to the underground system.

The consultation process was initiated in an effort to speed up negotiations and this latest move means the carriers must work quickly to get service up an running.

Champagne called the licence amendments “unprecedented” in Canada, saying if carriers do not comply, there will be consequences.

“Should mobile carriers fail to meet these conditions, I will not shy away from taking further action as appropriate,” Champagne said.

“This could include, if they fail to act, imposing mandatory penalties and even suspending or revoking a carrier’s spectrum licence. This is very serious business.”

When asked if the current system is capable of handling cell service for all major carriers, Champagne said the system is “definitely” capable of allowing all wireless carriers to offer some cellular service by October.

“What we want to ensure some level of service for all TTC users, even if it could mean in a very short period of time there would be reduced service for one carrier,” he said.

“It is in our best interest as a city to make sure that everyone has some services by Oct. 3,” he said.

Champagne noted that the government is also requiring quick expansion of service in the coming months and years, including mandating that the major carriers provide cell service at all stations within the next six months, cell service in 80 per cent of existing tunnels within a year, and 100 per cent of tunnels within three years.

In a statement, Rogers said it welcomed the news and accused Bell and Telus of "dragging their heels" during the negotiation process.

“This approach reflects what we’ve been proposing all along – to bring 5G services to all riders as quickly as possible. Bell and Telus have been dragging their heels and the federal government is now forcing them to work with us in earnest to make connectivity possible for all riders," the statement read.

"This is good news for Toronto transit riders. While we’ve been busy building, they’ve been busy whining. We’ll continue to work around the clock to upgrade and expand the network so all riders can connect anywhere on the subway.” 

In a written statement, a spokesperson for Bell called the news "a good day for Toronto."

"... all TTC riders should have high-quality cell phone service on the subway, regardless of carrier, for greater connectivity, convenience and safety," the statement read.

"With the federal government now forcing Rogers to finally work with other carriers, we look forward to providing our customers with underground wireless coverage in the coming weeks."

A spokesperson for Telus said the company is pleased that the government decided to "compel Rogers to provide access to all carriers."

"Minister Champagne’s order will significantly improve public safety and fair competition. It is regrettable that it took his action to force Rogers to do what they had promised to do months ago. The TELUS team stands ready to light up access as soon as possible, to the benefit of all TTC riders," the statement read.

When asked about compliance and whether the carriers will be able to work together to provide service in the timeframe provided by the federal government, Champagne said Ottawa has sent a strong message.

“They know me by now. I’m not the type of guy you want to mess with. I think they have figured that out,” he said.

“They don’t want to mess with millions of Torontonians who now have a clear timeline.”

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, who also attended Monday's news conference, applauded the minister’s decision, saying she was “amazed” by the “strong” and “decisive” action of the federal government.

“All of the transit riders are going to have a sigh of relief and say finally, finally it is happening,” Chow said.