Yesterday morning, with much fanfare and in the presence of Toronto Mayor John Tory, it was announced that WIND Mobile—and only WIND Mobile—was bringing cellular service to Toronto’s underground transport system.
The service has already been lit up at Bay, St. George and Yonge/Bloor, with the entire downtown loop set to come online within the month. You’ll get a signal on subway platforms, though, because service in the underground tunnels is, at present, cost-prohibitive and too useful for riders.
It was a major PR victory for WIND; its CEO was not only crowing about the carrier’s one-year exclusive, but had the chutzpah to say that the Big Three were welcome to negotiate a TTC roaming deal during that exclusive. But I’m going to call this thing out for what it is—a net neutrality disaster, or whatever you’d call the wireless equivalent.
What would the reaction have been were it Bell, Rogers or TELUS who announced exclusive dibs on Toronto subway platforms?
When asked by The Globe and Mail why they weren’t part of yesterday’s announcement, Bell and TELUS had no comment, and someone from Rogers had the following canned non-answer ready to go:
We’re open to any further agreement that would not add additional costs to deploying a wireless system in the TTC and would ensure the necessary technical standards are met so consumers get the high-quality service they expect.
Anyway, I came across what I think is a fairly plausible explanation for the Big Three’s non-interest in the unlikeliest of places—a comment on r/Toronto in the discussion of this story. Reddit user octopuskate recalled some telling information and numbers published by The National Post in 2013. Apparently BAI won the original contract for underground WiFi service with a bid of $25.5 million, whereas Bell Canada’s bid was a mere $5.5 million. This is important, because the contract that BAI secured stipulates that it must provide service to 60% of wireless customers in Toronto by a certain time, or transfer that contract to another interested party.
In other words, the Big Three are playing a waiting game, starving BAI to secure that same $25.5 million contract for much, much less.