CRTC’s Bell-Astral Decision Signals Welcome Shift Towards Transparency
Given that Canada’s media system is already one of the most highly concentrated in the industrialized world, the case has brought a lot of attention to the problems of vertical integration, and the negative impacts it can have on the availability of content, and the prices we pay. As the CRTC noted in its ruling, Bell is “the largest Internet service provider in Canada, the second largest wireless service provider and the third largest television distributor”. When one company owns the medium and the message, there is a strong profit incentive to push content that it owns, or restrict access to other content it doesn’t control.
Concern with this consolidation of media content and service provision led OpenMedia.ca, the Stop the Takeover Coalition, and thousands of Canadians to come together to argue that Canadians pay high prices for worse content and services because of the lack of real competition and choice, a situation that would only be furthered by the Bell-Astral deal.
The CRTC’s ruling struck a blow against vertical integration, and was a huge step forward for the promotion of healthy competition and consumer rights. However Bell has not taken the decision lying down, and turned to the Harper government to overturn the CRTC’s ruling. The government has responded by stating that the “[c]abinet has no legal ability to overturn this decision”. This leaves the Federal Court of Appeals as the only option for Bell.
This outcome shows a very different CRTC than the one which, almost two years ago, inspired OpenMedia.ca’s StopTheMeter.ca campaign in response to the decision to allow Big Telecom to impose usage-based billing on their independent competitors.
Following the success of this campaign, in March of this year the CRTC announced that it would hold a consultation to determine if “confidential” information submitted by Big Telecom (to establish wholesale rates) should be put on the public record. The outcome of this transparency consultation is now being eagerly awaited and will signal whether, as Commissioner Blais has suggested, this public-centric shift is set to continue.
The Bell-Astral decision is a landmark ruling in this respect, and indicates that the Internet freedom community should take this opportunity to push for further changes. This week we launched our Cell Phone Horror Stories campaign to make sure Canadians have a voice in the CRTC’s development of national rules to protect cell phone users. We pay some of the highest cell phone fees and are forced into some of the worst contracts in the industrialized world. This is because three big cell phone conglomerates control nearly 94% of the market. And those companies are poised to use the CRTC’s new rules to overrule current provincial regulations.
Telecom giant Bell is trying to change the rules so its takeover of Astral Media can proceed.
Speak out and tell your MP to listen to Canadians – not industry lobbyists at StopTheTakeover.ca »
We need to make sure the CRTC’s cell phone rules stay citizen-centric, and aren’t derailed by Big Telecom’s interference.
Share your cell phone horror stories with us today »