Verizon CFO says U.S. wireless carrier looking at potential entry into Canada

TORONTO – Big U.S. carrier Verizon said Tuesday that it’s in the very early stages of sizing up the potential of entering Canada’s wireless market.

But Verizon was noncommittal, saying it’s always looking at opportunities and Canada is just one of them.

Verizon’s chief financial officer, Fran Shammo, said the company has held exploratory talks in recent weeks with the Dutch owner of Wind Mobile, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

Shammo made the comments in an interview at an event sponsored by the New York-based business paper.

Some telecom industry observers have suggested Verizon is unlikely to make a big move into Canada because of foreign ownership restrictions and Shammo told the Journal that there could be regulatory complications.

“We’re looking at the opportunity,” Shammo said in an interview in Washington. “This is just us dipping our toe in the water.”

A Verizon spokesman added that “we constantly evaluate a wide variety of business opportunities, and this is one of many.”

Ottawa has lifted foreign ownership restrictions on small wireless carriers with 10 per cent or less share of the market, but Industry Minister Christian Paradis said recently that the federal government is committed to having at least four wireless carriers competing in each region of the country.

The Globe and Mail reported this week that Verizon had held talks with Wind Mobile owner VimpelCom in recent weeks.

Wind Mobile is one of several new wireless carriers that entered the Canadian market following a 2008 auction of federal spectrum licences.

The government set aside a portion of the spectrum for new entrants, saying it wanted to foster competition in the wireless industry. However, the three main national carriers — Rogers (TSX:RCI.B), Bell (TSX:BCE) and Telus (TSX:T) — continue to dominate the industry.

Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. mobile carrier, is co-owned by Verizon and U.K.-based Vodafone Group.