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Bell weeks away from announcing list of communities to get wireless spectrum

MONTREAL - Bell Canada will announce details in the coming weeks about a nearly two-year rollout that will bring new wireless service to hundreds of rural and remote Canadian markets.

"We've already begun to roll out, but we're actually going to announce over the coming month or so all the different markets...right across the country," CEO George Cope said Monday._

When completed by the end of 2015, almost 97 per cent of Canadians will have access to wireless spectrum, providing deeper broadband access than many countries in the world despite Canada's vast size and geographic challenges.

Bell parent company BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) spent $565.7 million for 31 licences as part of the record $5.27 billion that was raised by the federal government from an auction of 700 megahertz spectrum.

During a speech to the Canadian Club of Montreal, Cope said BCE has invested $16 billion over the last five years and plans to invest an additional $17.5 billion in the coming half-decade to improve its network, including bringing fibre connections straight to people's homes.

"I think outside maybe some of the oilsands companies in Alberta we (will have) the largest capital expenditure program over the next number of years in Canada — all of this focusing on meeting business and consumers' incredible demand for broadband wireless and wireline services."

He said BCE is a totally different company than it used to be, with less than seven per cent of revenues coming from traditional telephone service. Wireless accounts for one third of revenues, followed by the Internet at 25 per cent, while television brings in about 12 per cent.

Growth in the Canadian wireless industry has been slowed by the elimination of three-year contracts, which increased payments for handsets by dividing prices over a shorter time frame. However, Cope said he's "extremely bullish" on the wireless industry because revenues still grew four to five per cent and new LTE technology will only accelerate future expansion.

He said Bell is taking market share from cable companies with more than 2.5 million TV customers. Its sights are now set on overtaking Shaw as the largest TV services provider in about a year.

Cope told the business audience that Canada's wireless industry compares favourably against the world with deep investments, leading networks, competitive prices and faster speeds, adding that it is now tackling high roaming charges.

Meanwhile, Cope said neither Quebec rival Videotron, nor foreign competitors should get any special treatment or financial support to set up national wireless networks.

"If Verizon or AT&T wants to come to Canada, come. Bell is happy to compete with them but they have to compete on a level playing field," he said, adding that Quebecor's doesn't need any special treatment from Ottawa to compete either.

"I see no reason why Videotron needs any more support than Rogers, Telus or Bell. They're a large, capable, excellent company who needs no help from the Canadian government, just like the rest of us don't."

Follow @RossMarowits on Twitter

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