TORONTO — Rogers Communications Inc. says it has turned on wireless service for its customers at all remaining Toronto subway stations plus a limited section of the tunnels, but it is again unclear when TTC riders with other mobile carriers could get the same access.
The announcement on Friday comes as the company continues to build 5G infrastructure for the entire network of subway tunnels, which includes 36 kilometres of remaining track.
Rogers initially said it expected to take two years to complete the process when it announced plans to upgrade and build the network in April — a timeline that the company said is still its goal.
Rogers had previously made its 5G wireless network available to all passengers in the Line 1 stations and tunnels in the so-called Downtown U from Union Station north to St. George and Bloor-Yonge, plus Spadina and Dupont stations. Riders have also been able to access the cellular network in 13 stations on Line 2, along Bloor Street from Keele station to Castle Frank, plus the tunnels between St. George and Yonge stations.
The latest project milestone makes service available to Rogers customers in tunnels between Sheppard West and Vaughan Metropolitan Centre stations, in addition to the stations themselves.
“I’m thrilled that our team has completed the upgrade of the legacy network well ahead of schedule,” said Rogers chief technology and information officer Ron McKenzie in a statement.
Rogers acquired the cellular network in the subway system from BAI Canada earlier this year and has been working to upgrade it. It gave its own customers a head start on using the network when it activated cellular service in the busiest sections of the Toronto subway system in August.
The federal government then mandated that Rogers give Bell Canada and Telus Corp. customers equal levels of service on portions of the subway where there was existing cellular infrastructure by Oct. 3, which it complied with.
The service for all carriers came amid months of tense back-and-forth negotiations between Rogers, Bell and Telus over the best technical approach, and financial terms, for the coverage.
Bell and Telus want a joint build of the TTC's mobile network using a consortium model similar to that of Montreal's Metro, rather than a pay-for-access approach. Rogers has not publicly committed to either model.
That dispute remains unresolved.
Rogers did not say in its announcement on Friday when Bell and Telus customers could expect to have service throughout the rest of the activated network.
In a statement, Rogers spokesman Cam Gordon said the other carriers have had on-site access to Rogers' TTC infrastructure since September to install their equipment and connect to the network.
"To connect all riders as quickly as possible, we have also put in place the same immediate solution we implemented in the busiest sections of the subway including the Downtown U, and Bell and Telus can launch service for their customers this way in the new areas if they prefer this option," he said.
"We’re ready when they are."
Bell spokeswoman Jessica Benzinger disputed that characterization, saying the company "has not been offered the opportunity to allow our customers access to the expanded TTC network." She said Bell learned about Rogers' announcement by reading about it in media coverage.
"The announcement today is another deliberate attempt by Rogers to exclude many Torontonians from accessing service on the TTC," she said.
"This is a deliberate violation of ISED’s September conditions of licence, which require equivalent service for all Canadians. We are calling on the government to take immediate action to hold Rogers accountable for violating its conditions of licence."
Asked whether Ottawa's mandate was meant to apply at subway stations where cellular service was activated after the Oct. 3 deadline, a spokeswoman for Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne's office said wireless providers must offer full network access in every TTC station by June 2024.
“We look forward to seeing this deadline being met as well," said Audrey Champoux.
Telusdid not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The companies face a Dec. 20 deadline to negotiate commercial agreements to provide service on the subway over the long term.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2023.
Companies in this story: (TSX:RCI.B, TSX:BCE, TSX:T)
Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press