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Toronto Airport wireless dispute
July 8, 2002

Beginning today, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) plans to shut off the power to cellphone transmitter sites operated within the airport boundaries by four wireless telephone companies.

In several news stories published earlier today by the C.B.C., the GTAA is reported to have expressed concern about the quality of cellphone communication services operated within the airport terminal areas.

However, it is also clear that lease negotiations with the wireless companies for cell transmitter sites on airport property have been underway for more than a year. Last week the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission was asked by the wireless companies to intervene by prohibiting the GTAA from shutting down their sites while negotiations continued. The C.R.T.C. declined the invitation. The GTAA then announced that power would be cut beginning at noon today.

The GTAA is not in the business of providing public wireless communication services so it is not apparent why the GTAA would intervene on this issue unless it had some other financial interest in the matter. The wireless companies have revealed that substantial increases in lease rates have been demanded by the GTAA during the ongoing negotiations so this appears to be the more plausible explanation.

Assuming this is actually a lease renewal dispute, there are some parallels with the dispute involving Ledcor Industries and the City of Vancouver a few years ago. We reported on that story last year in an item titled "C.R.T.C. rejects communications right of way licence fees". The issue there involved an attempt by the City of Vancouver to generate a profit from licencing fees to be paid by telecommunications companies who wished to place fibre optic lines under city streets.

Given the nature of wireless technology, it seems likely that wireless service could be provided to the airport from transmitters placed just beyond the perimeter of the airport. If so, there will likely be many property owners willing to compete with the GTAA by offering more favourable lease terms. This solution would also avoid the issue of expropriation and whether it is or should be available to the wireless companies.

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