Edmonton Journal

BCE to buy SuperNet operator to serve rural areas


BCE Inc. will buy the Alberta operations of Axia NetMedia Corp. as part of its commitment to provide SuperNet broadband internet service to schools, hospitals and other public institutio­ns throughout the province under a government contract.

Financial terms of the Axia acquisitio­n, which is expected to close in the fall, weren’t announced Tuesday.

BCE’s Bell Canada currently owns and operates SuperNet network assets serving 27 urban centres in Alberta while an additional 402 rural communitie­s have been served by Axia NetMedia, a Calgary-based company.

“We look forward to welcoming the Axia team to Bell as we integrate our operations to deliver the highest levels of service to Alberta’s SuperNet users,” Dan McKeen, Bell’s vice chair for Western Canada, said in a statement.

A BCE spokesman said it wouldn’t comment about its plans for Axia on Tuesday because the deal hadn’t closed.

The company’s announceme­nt follows the Alberta government’s decision to award Bell a multi-year contract to operate SuperNet services provincewi­de following an extensive review and consultati­on process that began in 2016.

Bell had been the prime contractor to build the SuperNet, which has been operating in 429 communitie­s since 2005. At the time, Axia initially had a 10-year renewable contract with the government to provide managed broadband network services to more than 4,200 schools, hospitals, libraries and government facilities.

Art Price, who founded Axia in 1995 and remains its chief executive, had warned last month that its latest contract to provide rural SuperNet service was set to expire June 30 and that there was a danger that service might be interrupte­d as of July 1 if the province didn’t announce its decision.

Minister of Service Alberta Brian Malkinson formally announced on Friday that Bell had been chosen to operate both the urban and rural portions of the SuperNet service. The province had previously identified Bell as its preferred supplier.

Axia NetMedia had been an independen­t, publicly traded company until 2016, when it was acquired and taken private by Partners Group, a global investment group with offices around the world including in Switzerlan­d and the United Kingdom.

Partners Group will remain invested in Axia’s operations in France, known as Covage, but will divest all of Axia’s Canadian operations to BCE to ensure uninterrup­ted connectivi­ty to communitie­s that rely on the SuperNet for their broadband, the company said in an emailed statement from London, England.

“As such, the sale is in the best interests of all parties and especially to rural Albertans.”

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