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Should Bell be Allowed to Buy More?

11 August 2012

Bell Canada, a company that Canadian consumers either love or hate. And unfortunately for the company, many more appear to be falling into the latter category by the day. And, if they continue on with their attempt to take over Astral Media, there will be even more to join the anti-Bell camp.

Yes, Bell Canada Enterprises wants to expand their operations in Canada even more by purchasing Astral Media, giving them more control over the Canadians that are currently under their thumb. The amount of power this would give Bell is pretty astronomical looking at the numbers:

  • Bell Canada’s national viewership would increase to 41.4% for English-speaking Canadians; and 24% for French-speaking Canadians. This would be well more than the 37.6% that the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commissions) allows.
  • Bell Canada would own more than anyone else in Canada including 79 TV channels, 107 radio stations, and over 100 websites. This would give them an audience of 50% more than any other private company in any other G8 country; and the chart below shows just how much that is.

The concern of course, is that should this takeover happen, Bell would have a monopoly here in Canada. And we don’t allow monopolies.

Pierre Karl Peladeau, president and CEO of Quebecor, the agency that owns Sun Media, has been most outspoken against the merger and has even created a website on which consumers can let their voices be heard and say “no” to the takeover.

“This deal carries huge risk to the consumer,” said Mr. Peladeau. “The balance of power will shift in the marketplace away from the consumer and toward one giant communication conglomerate.”

The website that was launched to fight the merger can be found at

Lee Bragg, CEO of another media company, Eastlink that’s based in Halifax, agrees with Mr. Peladeau and was one who helped create the site protesting the merger.

“History shows us that when too much power is concentrated in one company it means higher prices and poorer choices,” Peladeau.

When asked about the merger, BCE has declined an actual interview in defense of themselves, but they did write an email indicating their own stance on the merger.

“We’re actually leveling the playing field with the long-dormant media company in Quebec – Quebecor – and that clearly has our competitor concerned,” the email from the company stated.

But that competitor isn’t the only one that has concerns. Canada’s Competition Bureau is also looking into the matter. After being approached by Cogeco Cable, Eastlink, and Videotron, the Competition Bureau is now conducting its own investigation.

Melanie Aitken, Commissioner of Competition, issued a statement saying,

“The Bureau is well aware that a number of serious concerns have been expressed by market participants related to the effect that increased concentration and vertical integration in the broadcasting industry are said to be having on consumers and other television programming providers. While the Bureau is required by law to conduct its work confidentially, I can confirm that we are actively reviewing these concerns. Should the Bureau determine that the proposed transaction is likely to substantially lessen or prevent competition, we would not hesitate to take appropriate action.”

This isn’t the first time the Bureau has looked into dealings at Bell, either. When they partnered with Rogers to buy Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Bureau also completed an investigation before sending a No Action Letter to Bell.

There will be a hearing on September 10 at which a ruling could be handed down. After the time any ruling is made, the Commissioner will have one year to bring the case before the Competition Tribunal.

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