By Ismail Shakil and Divya Rajagopal
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's antitrust agency said on Friday it needs more time to investigate the concession offered by Rogers Communications Inc to allay competition concerns over its proposed C$20 billion ($15.5 billion) takeover of Shaw Communications Inc's, a move that Rogers swiftly opposed.
Rogers has agreed to sell Freedom Mobile to Quebecor Inc to overcome competition bureau's objection to the Shaw deal. But the watchdog said on Friday the information about Freedom sale that the bureau currently has does not address antitrust issues, and sought at least six weeks extension to the entire hearing at the competition tribunal.
The antitrust bureau has blocked Rogers' proposed takeover of Shaw arguing it would lessen competition in a country where consumers pay among the highest telecoms bills in the world.
The deal, announced in March 2021, is due to expire this month, though both Rogers and Shaw can agree to extend the closure date, according to company filings.
Friday's developments could suggest that the bureau, which has recently got more powers, is in no hurry to bring a quick end to this battle.
But Rogers opposed the bureau's request for more time to saying it was "critical" for the parties stick to the expedited schedule of the hearing.
Matthew Boswell, Commissioner of Competition, Canada, said in a court filing that the bureau is "seeking only a limited extension" in the spirit of expediting its application in the competition tribunal.
It was unclear whether the tribunal would accept the competition bureau's request. The tribunal declined to comment.
The competition bureau said that it does not currently have sufficient information and "first hand evidence" about Quebecor unit Videotron's experience of competing in Canada's key provinces and how it plans to compete without the help of Rogers.
Rogers also opposed bureau's request to question Videotron over the buyout of Freedom Mobile.
The parties failed to reach a solution during this month's mediation, and talks are expected to continue next month, before a formal hearing of the case starts in the tribunal in November. For a story on how the legal battle will play out:
Shaw shares briefly turned negative on the news, but were trading up 0.7% at C$34.70, a 14.4% discount to Rogers offer price reflecting the deal uncertainty. Rogers shares were up 0.4%.
($1 = 1.2870 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Divya Rajagopal in Toronto, writing by Ismail Shakil; Editing by David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy)