The CRTC has actually momentarily remembered that its job isn’t to rubber-stamp requests from the big telecoms: It has squashed Bell’s plan to buy Astral and thus control a massive share of the telecom market:
“BCE failed to persuade us the deal would benefit Canadians,” said chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, who took over the post earlier this year and has quickly put a populist stamp on the regulator. “It would have placed significant market power in the hands of one of the country’s largest media companies. We could not have ensured a robust Canadian broadcasting system without imposing extensive and intrusive safeguards, which would have been to the detriment of the entire industry.”
Anglos are breathing a sign of relief because this will save TSN 690, Montreal’s English-language sports radio station (and official home of the Habs, when the NHL isn’t on lockout). Rival media conglomerate Quebecor is breathing a sigh of relief, because its dominance in the francophone market won’t be challenged by a Bell/Astral giant.
But there’s a bigger issue here, and one that should be of interest to all Canadians who are concerned about the extreme amount of media consolidation that we’ve witnessed in our country over the past couple of decades. When two or three companies are allowed to control both the media and the messaging via television, radio, newspapers, digital and mobile channels, we all suffer. Just about every Canadian has a nightmare story about one of the telecom giants (and Bell figures at the top of most of those nightmare story lists). Canadians already pay the highest cell phone rates in the world, and that’s only getting worse due to the lack of competition in the marketplace. The telecoms are all working hard to produce exclusive content, and are licensing it to their rivals for high costs. The limited choice in television service offerings is leading many Canadians to simply pull the plug rather than put up with poor service and content offerings for high prices.
Canadians are fed up. And plenty of them spoke up at the CRTC hearings. There were 9,700 interventions filed, and while many of them were from rival media conglomerates such as Rogers, plenty of others were from the general public. They were standing up to say that having one company in charge of nearly half of what we see, hear, read and watch isn’t in anyone’s best interest.
I’ve been really hard on the CRTC in the past for being in the pockets of the telecom companies and shirking its mandate to protect the consumer. Thanks to this decision, I have to issue this blog’s first-ever kudos to the CRTC. It’s a step in the right direction. Keep it up.