The examination of the proposed Bell acquisition of Astral Communications took place last week in Montreal with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission hearing from a wide range of supporters and opponents of a deal that only last year was rejected as contrary to the public interest.
As Bell and Astral sought to defend their plan, a familiar enemy emerged – Netflix. What does a U.S.-based Internet video service with roughly two million Canadian subscribers have to do with a mega-merger of Bell and Astral?
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that for the past few years, it has become standard operating procedure at CRTC hearings to ominously point to the Netflix threat. When Internet providers tried to defend usage based billing practices that led to expensive bills and some of the world’s most restrictive data caps, they pointed to the bandwidth threat posed by Netflix. When cultural groups sought to overturn years of CRTC policy that takes a hands-off approach to Internet regulation, they argued that Netflix was a threat that needed to be addressed. So when Bell and Astral seek to merge, they naturally raise the need to respond to Netflix.