BCE president George Cope, seen in March in Montreal, said Friday that Canadians are the losers and BCE’s rivals are the winners in the CRTC’s decision to block a $3.4 billion take-over of Astral Media. (via Consumers the focus in CRTC’s rejection of Bell take-over of Astral Media, experts says. - thestar.com)
- That’s what many are wondering after Thursday’s surprise decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to reject Bell’s mammoth $3.4-billion takeover of Astral Media.
- It was a decision that cheered consumer advocates, angered broadcasting giant Bell — which saw its growth ambitions dashed — and left many speculating what it means for future decisions from the broadcast regulator.
- And as that speculation swirled, the federal government made clear Friday that it had no intention of bowing to Bell’s demands to intervene in the decision.
- “The CRTC is an arm’s-length agency of the government and as such the government has no legal ability to overturn this decision,’ said Conservative MP Paul Callandra, parliamentary secretary to Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore.
- Experts were still weighing the impact of the CRTC ruling — and what it signalled. “I think the CRTC sent a very strong signal that they are planning to adopt a new approach when it comes to this kind of regulation and are going to put consumers at the very centre of its policy,” said Michael Geist, a professor at the University of Ottawa. “Much of the process over the years has left consumers on the side, almost as if they are supposed to be the beneficiaries of trickle-down regulation where the prime beneficiaries are the stakeholders, the broadcasters and telecom companies,” Geist said.
- Carleton University professor Dwayne Winseck isn’t convinced that the CRTC has become seized by a pro-consumer fever, calling it “nonsense. “That’s all trumped up,” said Winseck, who teaches at the university’s school of journalism and communication. Instead, he said the merits of the Bell-Astral deal — and concentration it would have brought to the broadcasting sector — warranted an outright rejection. He noted that most other broadcasters and telecom firms had lined up in opposition to the deal. “This was a squabble of major proportions among the titans of industry. In some ways you could say that the decision was not so radical at all. “We’ve got these incredibly high levels of concentration already and this would have pushed it up over the top.”
Still, Geist says Thursday’s decision follows a consumer-friendly pattern that has been emerging since Blais took over as chair of the broadcast regulator four months ago. In August, the commission created the post of chief consumer officer to “better understand the concerns of Canadian consumers and bring them to the commission’s attention during the decision-making process.” “This will be achieved by leading research activities on consumer issues to identify trends and best practices, including those in other jurisdictions,” the commission said in a statement at the time of the appointment. And the new approach was evident at the CRTC hearings, held in Montreal, into the Bell-Astral deal when consumer concerns had a “starring role” not seen in past hearings,” Geist said. In the past, consumer worries were “tolerated but rarely considered. The main participants rarely took it all that seriously. It was just a little but of background noise,” said Geist, who holds the Canada research chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the university’s faculty of law. “It’s not anymore. In many ways, those same groups will, I think, really help shape and influence the perspective on what the public interest is for each of these issues.” And he said the new approach was also apparent in the CRTC’s three-year plan, which was released several weeks ago where consumer access “was stated as the top priority.”
Very good position from the Conservative government. Only a few years ago, the Liberals seem to take every opportunity to overrule CRTC.