Minister Champagne takes steps to ensure TTC riders have wireless coverage

Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced yesterday that he is initiating a consultation to revise the licenses of Rogers, Bell, Telus and Videotron to ensure all Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) riders have wireless coverage, “including 911 service, in all subway tunnels and stations, followed by voice, data and text as soon as technically feasible.”

“Access to reliable telecommunications services—and to emergency services in particular—is a critical public safety matter, and I will take all necessary actions to protect the interest of Canadians,” said Champagne.

Used by over two million passengers on a typical weekday, the TTC has become a breeding ground for serious safety concerns, with a soaring number of violent incidents including theft, sexual assaults, and even homicides reported over the past year.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), which Champagne heads, suggests that this situation will persist until all sections of the TTC subway system are upgraded to support multiple wireless providers.

As of now, only Freedom Mobile offers connectivity underground, and covers only about six per cent of the system under an agreement with BAI Communications’ Canadian operations (BAI Canada), which held the exclusive rights to build the TTC’s network. In April, Rogers acquired BAI and subsequently took over as sole provider of wireless service on the TTC. It, however, failed to mention at the time whether only Rogers customers or all riders will benefit from connectivity under that deal.

Typically, all carriers should work out commercial agreements for antenna site sharing that facilitates the efficient and timely deployment of service. 

However the TTC, ISED notes, is a situation representing an “unusual set of circumstances” given the limited space to deploy equipment and limited times of day where installation can occur. Carriers, as a result, have been unable to coordinate an approach to provide service in a timely manner.

With this consultation, the minister seeks to ensure that providers benefit from licence conditions that facilitate the attainment of these commercially negotiated agreements.

These agreements will have to be negotiated within 30 calendar days, once a decision from this consultation has been made.  If no agreement is reached by the deadline, the carriers would be required to proceed to commercial arbitration.

Under the proposed conditions, Champagne is also introducing new enhanced deployment requirements for the carriers to provide service in the stations and tunnels within the TTC subway system. These new conditions would apply to all existing and future commercial mobile licences and would apply in addition to current deployment conditions, which are typically met by providing coverage above ground.

Following negotiation and arbitration, licensees will have to deploy voice, text, and data services in;

  1. 100 per cent of the stations in the TTC subway system within 180 days
  2. 80 per cent of the tunnels in the TTC subway system within two years, and 100 per cent of the tunnels in the TTC subway system within three years
  3. 100 per cent of the new stations and 100 per cent of the new tunnels within one year of the date that any new TTC subway stations and/or tunnels become operational in the future.

Further, the proposed Conditions of Licence would mandate new reporting requirements, in order to allow ISED to monitor the carriers’ progress towards compliance. Providers will have to report on the number of stations and percentage of TTC tunnels covered, type of services offered, network outages, number of customers accessing the network and more.

Interested parties have until Aug. 8, 2023 to submit their comments on these new proposed Conditions of Licence. 

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Ashee Pamma
Ashee Pamma
Ashee is a writer for ITWC. She completed her degree in Communication and Media Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. She hopes to become a columnist after further studies in Journalism. You can email her at [email protected]

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