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In Vancouver, Globalive takes its wireless fight underground

A major transit line in Greater Vancouver has become a new front in Canada's wireless war.

Globalive Wireless Management Corp. wants the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to intercede in its fight with the City of Vancouver and Telus Corp. to gain access to the underground tunnels and stations of the rapid transit Canada Line.

At issue for new entrants such as Globalive, which operates under the Wind Mobile brand, is the ability to compete in the key B.C. market by providing seamless coverage to consumers who want uninterrupted service even while using public transit. At least one other wireless newcomer, Mobilicity, is waiting to see how the dispute shakes out before stepping into the fray.

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In its application to the CRTC, Globalive accuses the City of Vancouver and InTransit BC, which operates the Canada Line, of giving Telus a "local monopoly" along the key transit artery by making it a "gatekeeper" for other carriers to access the line's in-tunnel wireless network. Globalive says commercial talks collapsed in April because Telus was requesting exorbitant fees for access to the system.

Telus signed an agreement in 2008 to design the system for the Canada Line and spent more than $2-million on the infrastructure for what is one of the first continuous stretches of underground wireless coverage in Canada.

Under the deal, Telus is legally bound to provide access to at least three other wireless carriers, through negotiated rates that would allow it to recover its capital costs and fees to upgrade the system.

Telus already has agreements with Rogers Communications Inc. and BCE Inc., and says it is willing to restart talks with Globalive.

Globalive argues the dispute demonstrates why more regulatory intervention is required to support Ottawa's goal of promoting wireless competition. Its complaint comes as Industry Canada is holding a broader consultation on its so-called tower sharing policy, which is partly designed to assist new entrants in rolling out their networks.

"This is simply an example of an institutional issue that we have across this country, which is that the incumbents have had a 30-year head start on new entrants," said Simon Lockie, Globalive's chief regulatory officer. "It is just in their best commercial interests to do everything they can to avoid competition, real competition, from new entrants like Wind. And unless they are forced by government action to give access to infrastructure, then they simply won't do it."

Although the CRTC has the authority under the federal Telecommunications Act to force access to public places, the City of Vancouver, InTransit BC and Telus all want Globalive's application dismissed.

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"The application is unnecessary and premature," the city has told the CRTC, adding that there is nothing stopping carriers such as Wind from negotiating "reasonable" commercial access.

Telus denies that it is controlling access to the in-tunnel system.

"[Globalive's]claims, while colourful and hyperbolic, are somewhat outrageous because we are not a monopolist of this. We merely manage it on behalf of the City of Vancouver and InTransit," said Ted Woodhead, Telus's vice-president of telecom policy and regulatory affairs. "We've offered them fair and reasonable access to it."

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