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Media Release, Consumers Disappointed with CRTC Approval of BCE Acquisition of Astral

OTTAWA – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) today expressed deep concern with the decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to approve subject to conditions the acquisition of Astral Media inc. by Bell Canada Enterprises.

PIAC, who acted as counsel for the Consumers’ Association of Canada (CAC), the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organization of British Columbia (COSCO), the National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation (NPSCF), and Option consommateurs appeared before the Commission in May opposing Bell’s second application to take over Astral Media. PIAC argued that the transaction would create an unprecedented level of media concentration and vertical integration in Canada and weaken competition in broadcasting services, resulting in increased costs for television programming to consumers. At the hearing, PIAC argued that Canadian consumers are frustrated with the lack of choice and flexibility and continued price increases for television services and asked the Commission to deny the application.

The Commission in its decision acknowledged that the transaction would lead to significant concentration in the Canadian broadcasting system.

“Canada will now have an unprecedented level of media concentration and vertical integration and a weaker diversity of voices with the loss of Astral, a strong independent broadcaster,” said Janet Lo, Legal Counsel for PIAC. “Consumers should brace themselves for less competition for television services – and consumers will not only pay the price but they will face less choice and flexibility in the market.”

PIAC expressed reservations about the effectiveness of safeguards imposed on transaction, such as embedding portions of the Vertical Integration Code of Conduct as Conditions of Licence and requiring dispute resolution if affiliation agreements are not reached before the expiry of an existing agreement. PIAC, however, was somewhat encouraged by the requirement on BCE to file all affiliation agreements with the Commission.

“These mechanisms are less than ideal safeguards to protect Canadian broadcasting consumers and consumers are left to trust the Commission to closely monitor BCE to flag and penalize anti-competitive behaviour,” said Lo. “The best protection for consumers is vigorous competition in an unconcentrated market by many competitors, including strong independent players, who can deliver the innovation in pricing and packaging that consumers expect.”

PIAC is a member of the Stop the Takeover Coalition, a broad-based coalition of public interest groups opposing the transaction.

Link to PIAC/CAC/COSCO/NPSCF/OC May 7 Oral Presentation to the CRTC:

 

thumb_pdfDownload File: oralpresentationbellastral2.pdf [size: 0.09 mb]

 

Link to PIAC/CAC/COSCO/NPSCF/OC comments filed with CRTC on April 5

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:

Janet Lo
Legal Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
ONE Nicholas Street, Suite 1204
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 7B7
mobile: (613) 816-5688
office: (613) 562-4002×24

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

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