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Canada won't alter spectrum rules, mute on possible bidders

By Leila Lemghalef

SAINT-HUBERT, Quebec (Reuters) - The rules for Canada's forthcoming auction of wireless spectrum will stay the same despite the decision by U.S. telecoms giant Verizon Communications Inc not to take part, Industry Minister James Moore said on Wednesday.

Canada is selling off four blocks of particularly valuable wireless spectrum next January. The Conservative government, which wants to boost competition, says the big three Canadian telecommunications firms can only bid for one of the blocks while new entrants can go for up to two.

Ottawa had hoped a major firm like Verizon would enter the Canadian market, which would likely have boosted bids while also potentially driving down prices for consumers.

Verizon said on Monday it was not interested, putting Ottawa's strategy in some doubt. But Moore suggested other foreign players may still be interested.

"Certainly the news from this week - Verizon choosing not to enter the Canadian marketplace - will cause incumbent players and possibly players from outside of Canada to look at the auction," Moore said.

Companies wishing to take part in the January 2014 auction have to register their interest by September 17.

"We are not changing dates, we are not changing our policy, we are moving forward and we'll see which firms choose to present in the auction in January," Moore told reporters after making an announcement in the Quebec town of Saint-Hubert.

He declined to speculate on which firms might bid.

The government wants a fourth player in every region of Canada to take on BCE Inc, Rogers Communications Inc and Telus Corp, who between them have around 90 percent of the domestic market.

The three firms say Ottawa's tactics, including rules limiting access to spectrum, are unfair. But Moore reiterated the Conservative government's view that more competition is needed.

"We can do better as a country. We are a G8 (Group of Eight) nation and we pay almost the highest costs in the world for wireless and we can do better for our consumers," said Moore.

Verizon had at one stage considered using either Canadian telecom startup Mobilicity and its larger rival Wind Mobile - partly owned by European telecom giant Vimpelcom - as a way of entering the market, sources told Reuters in June.

(Reporting by Leila Lemghalef, writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson, Bernard Orr)

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