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Bell Canada network investments make it able to compete with Rogers, Starlink: CEO

Bell aiming to compete

BCE's Bell Canada is well-positioned to compete with longtime rival Rogers Communications Inc. or a new challenge from Elon Musk's Starlight satellite internet service, the CEO of Canada's largest telecom and media said Thursday.

BCE confirmed on the weekend that it attempted to outbid Rogers for Calgary-based Shaw Communications Inc. but withdrew after unspecified regulatory issues mentioned in a Shaw information disclosure to its shareholders.

Mirko Bibic, who is president and chief executive of both BCE and Bell Canada, said Thursday the company always looks at opportunities that make sense for its shareholders, looked at Shaw and decided not to proceed.

"We're very, very pleased with the asset mix we have … (which) allows us to be a formidable competitor in the marketplace today and that will continue to be the case," Bibic said.

He was responding to an online shareholder question about the impact of the Rogers plan to buy Shaw and its Freedom Mobile in a $26-billion friendly deal that's subject to regulatory approvals.

He also noted that Bell announced earlier this year that it would increase its capital spending by between $1 billion and $1.2 billion, above its normal spending, to build more high-speed fibre-optic internet and wireless network coverage.

Bibic gave a similar response to another question about a challenge from the Starlink "low earth orbit" satellite service from SpaceX, one of Musk's main business ventures. SpaceX got a licence last year that will allow it to operate in Canada.

Bell is able to deliver internet to rural and remote areas using a non-satellite approach — a residential wireless service that will eventually reach one million rural or remote households from Manitoba to Newfoundland, he said.

"And I stand that up against Starlink or other LEO (low Earth orbit) competitors, any day," Bibic said.

Bell Canada has a diverse and large business that includes one of Canada's three national wireless networks, phone and internet networks stretching from Manitoba to Atlantic Canada and a media division that includes advertising-supported television and radio as well as content creation businesses.

Earlier Thursday, BCE Inc. reported its first-quarter profit fell compared with a year ago as it faced higher costs but its revenue grew for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

BCE net earnings attributable to common shareholders amounted to $642 million or 71 cents per share for the quarter ended March 31.

That was down from a profit of $680 million or 75 cents per share in the first three months of 2020.

The year-over-year decline was attributed to higher expenses, including higher severance for reducing its workforce at Bell Media.

On an adjusted basis, BCE reported 78 cents per share of adjusted net earnings for the quarter, down from 79 cents per share in the same quarter last year.

Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of 72 cents per share, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

Operating revenue totalled $5.71 billion, up from $5.64 billion in last year's first quarter, which included the beginning of Canada's pandemic-related shutdowns.

Chief financial officer Glen LeBlanc told analysts on a conference call that the increased revenue included higher sales of premium smartphones in the wireless division and a 12 per cent increase in internet revenue.

At Bell Media, TV advertising revenue recovered faster in the first quarter than advertising on radio or out-of-home advertising such as billboards, LeBlanc said.



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