Opposition mounts to Bell takeover of Astral

Commissioned research
from Prof. Dwayne Winseck
helps consumers make the case
against Bell-Astral.
Photo: Carleton University
OTTAWA – Four Canadian consumer and public interest groups today (Aug. 9) filed comments opposing the proposed acquisition of Astral Media Inc. by Bell Canada, a division of BCE Inc., with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), which also acts as counsel for Consumers’ Association of Canada (CAC), Canada Without Poverty (CWP), and Council of Senior Citizens’ Organization of British Columbia (COSCO), stated the groups do not believe that the proposed transaction will benefit consumers.

The groups outlined several concerns, including: the impact of the proposed transaction on the diversity of voices in the Canadian broadcasting system; increasing levels of media concentration in conventional television and pay and specialty television services; increasing costs for “basic service” television programming; and increased vertical integration, leading to weakened competition in broadcasting services.

“If this transaction is approved, consumers will be offered even less flexibility in packaging and fewer choices to pick and pay only for the television services they want to watch,” said Janet Lo, PIAC Counsel. “Our primary concern is the trend of rising prices for subscriptions to television services which are increasing at a significantly higher rate than other communications services,” added Lo.

PIAC/CAC/CWP/COSCO also expressed serious concern about Bell’s proposed tangible benefits package for this transaction. The groups particularly target the proposal to direct $40M to BCE Inc.’s subsidiary Northwestel in order to modernize broadband infrastructure in the North. While all four groups strongly support more broadband service in the North, this plan would only benefit Northerners if they subscribed to Northwestel’s internet services, and does not truly benefit the Canadian broadcasting system.

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.

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