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Consumer and Public Interest Groups Still Oppose Bell-Astral Merger

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 8, 2013

OTTAWA – Five Canadian consumer and public interest groups filed comments with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on Friday opposing the proposed acquisition of Astral Media Inc. by Bell Canada, a division of BCE Inc.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), who also acts as counsel for the Consumers’ Association of Canada (CAC), Council of Senior Citizens’ Organization of British Columbia (COSCO), National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation (NPSCF) and Option consommateurs (OC) argued that Bell and Astral’s new proposed merger is not in the public interest and thus should be denied. The groups stated the deal would be bad for consumers and outlined several concerns, including:

  • Bell’s already significant position in the broadcasting system and the highly concentrated tight oligopoly in all broadcasting product and geographic markets in Canada;
  • The impact of the proposed transaction on the diversity of voices in the Canadian broadcasting system if Astral, the largest remaining, non-integrated, independent broadcaster is removed;
  • Increasing levels of media concentration in pay and specialty television services in the hands of Bell, especially in French-language pay and specialty television services;
  • Further media concentration into the hands of a few large, vertically integrated companies that own both broadcasting services and telecommunications services (such as internet access services and wireless telephone) and the impact of this concentration on the ability of independent broadcasters and distributors to effectively compete;
  • Consistent increases to costs for “basic service” television programming, including Bell’s recent price increases to its Bell TV services;
  • Weakened competition in broadcasting services and less choice and flexibility for Canadian consumers in television packaging; and
  • Inadequacy of the proposed safeguards to address the impacts of the transaction on the Canadian broadcasting system and to properly safeguard healthy and fair competition that will benefit consumers, particularly given the increase in Bell’s already significant market power.

“Increased media concentration into the hands of few large vertically integrated telecommunications and media companies will not result in more competition in the market,” said John Lawford, PIAC Executive Director and General Counsel. “The loss of Astral in the marketplace does not deliver more competition for consumers. Any increases to Bell’s size will further threaten the ability of independent broadcasters and broadcasting distributors to effectively compete against the highly concentrated, tight oligopoly of large media companies that own both broadcasting and distribution services.”

The five public interest and consumer groups noted that consumers are paying increased prices for inflated packages that do not meet their expectations and needs. “Prices for subscriptions to television services are increasing at a significantly higher rate than for all other communications services,” added Janet Lo, PIAC Counsel. “Consumers have clearly demanded more choice and flexibility to pick and pay only for the television services they want to watch – the trend of increased media consolidation has not delivered this and the proposed Bell-Astral merger does not promise any increased consumer choice or flexibility for television services.”

The groups’ submission contains commissioned evidence from respected academic Dr. Dwayne Winseck, Professor at the School of Journalism and Communications with a cross appointment at the Institute of Political Economy, Carleton University. Dr. Winseck has been the lead Canadian researcher in the International Media Concentration Research Project since 2009 and Director of the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project.

Full Comments of PIAC/CAC/COSCO/NPSCF/OC [pdf file: 0.52mb]
Appendix 1 – Evidence of Dr. Dwayne Winseck [pdf file: 2.83mb]
Appendix 2 – Evidence of Dr. Dwayne Winseck – Data Tables and Figures Source Notes [pdf file: 4.3mb]
Appendix 3 – Historical Overview of Bell’s Retail Television Service Pricing and Packages [pdf file: 0.15mb]
Appendix 4 – Selected Metropolitan Market Comparison of Basic Television Service Monthly Rates, 2013 [pdf file: 0.09mb]
Appendix 5 – PIAC 2012 Telephone Survey About Consumer Choice in TV Service [pdf file: 0.12mb]
Appendix 6 – Selected Questions and Answers from CanadiansDeserveMore.ca [pdf file: 0.11mb]

For more information:

John Lawford
Executive Director and General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
ONE Nicholas Street, Suite 1204
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 7B7
(613) 562-4002×25
(613) 447-8125 (cell)
jlawford@piac.ca

Janet Lo
Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
ONE Nicholas Street, Suite 1204
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 7B7
(613) 562-4002×24
jlo@piac.ca

http://www.piac.ca

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