Archive for October, 2012

CRTC Pushes Bill of Rights for Consumers

Appeared in the Toronto Star on October 22, 2012 as Consumer Wireless Protections Completes Dramatic Policy Shift Earlier this month, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission invited the public to help create a national code of conduct for wireless companies such as Bell, Rogers, and Telus. The consultation is expected […]

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October 23, 2012 Comments are Disabled Columns Archive

The CRTC’s Big Shift: From Tangible Benefits to the Public Interest

Last week’s Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications decision to reject the proposed Bell – Astral merger surprised most observers, as few predicted with much confidence that the deal would be flatly rejected. There was good reason to doubt such an outcome, given that the CRTC review of the merger transactions has historically focused on the “tangible benefits” package that often provide millions in funding for new Canadian television and radio productions.

The result was largely regulatory theatre. The purchaser would typically unveil a benefits package featuring self-interested proposals, often amend those plans at the CRTC hearing to demonstrate it was sensitive to criticisms from various groups, and the CRTC would proceed to further tweak the package to show it was not ready to rubber stamp the transaction.

My extra Toronto Star column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the process generally served the companies and the tangible benefits recipients well. The merging companies were reasonably assured of getting their deal approved and the tangible benefits recipients received hundreds of millions in funding with few strings attached. 

The problem was that the public was missing from this process. Tough policy issues with a direct impact on the public were put off for another day as the public interest was supposedly served by trickle down benefits generated by market efficiencies or the creation of new Canadian programming.

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October 22, 2012 5 comments Columns

Make No Mistake, This is a New CRTC

Appeared in the Toronto Star on October 20, 2012 as Make No Mistake, This is a New CRTC Last week’s Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications decision to reject the proposed Bell – Astral merger surprised most observers, as few predicted with much confidence that the deal would be flatly rejected. There […]

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October 22, 2012 Comments are Disabled Columns Archive

Reactions to the CRTC’s Bell – Astral Decision

Several must-read posts and articles on the CRTC’s Bell – Astral decision from over the weekend from David Ellis, Dwayne Winseck, and Steven Chase of the Globe and Mail.

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October 22, 2012 1 comment Must Reads

This Is Not Your Parent’s CRTC: Commission Rejects the Bell – Astral Deal

Earlier today, the CRTC rejected Bell’s proposed acquisition of Astral. The quick, unanimous decision – the hearings wrapped up just over a month ago – leaves no doubt about CRTC chair Jean Pierre Blais’ top priority.  Simply put, the public (whether as the public interest or as consumers) comes first. This is not a decision many expected. I wrote several pieces on the merger, but thought that the Competition Bureau was a far more difficult regulatory hurdle for the deal.

The CRTC identified multiple problems with the Bell bid (radio, tangible benefits, lack of evidence that bigger is better online), but the conclusion says it all:

The Commission finds that BCE has not discharged its burden and demonstrated that, on balance, this transaction is in the public interest. The benefits proposed would advantage BCE and its services, but the Commission is not persuaded that the transaction would provide significant and unequivocal benefits to the Canadian broadcasting system and to Canadians sufficient to outweigh the concerns described above.

While demonstrating that the transaction is in the public interest is always the language used in these proceedings, the CRTC has in the past focused on the tangible benefits package (ie. the multi-million dollar payments to creator groups) as the primary proxy for public interest. No longer. The CRTC’s focus today is unequivocally on the broader public interest with consumer impact the leading concern. 

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October 18, 2012 17 comments News