Canadian regulator blocks BCE's C$3 billion Astral takeover

Thu Oct 18, 2012 6:37pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

GATINEAU, Quebec (Reuters) - Canada's broadcast regulator blocked BCE Inc's controversial C$3 billion ($3.05 billion) takeover of Astral Media on Thursday, declaring the deal would have given too much power to BCE, already the country's biggest telecoms company and owner of numerous TV and radio assets.

"BCE failed to persuade us that the deal would benefit Canadians," said Jean-Pierre Blais, who took over as chairman of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) four months ago.

It was the biggest deal the CRTC had ever blocked, and a leading telecoms analyst said it marked a shift toward standing up for the consumer.

"In four months, Blais has transformed the CRTC into a pro-consumer advocate, creating the kind of regulatory agency that until recently was scarcely imaginable. The change is long overdue," said Michael Geist at the University of Ottawa.

The decision is good news for media company Quebecor Inc, which feared a BCE takeover of Quebec-based Astral - which owns specialty-TV channels, radio stations and produces programming - would challenge its dominance of French-language content.

The ruling also benefits BCE's English-language competitors, including Rogers Communications Inc, which said BCE was already abusing its market power as an integrated broadcaster and distributor. Rogers said it was a "courageous" decision.

"The CRTC found steel in its spine," said Iain Grant, who is managing director of telecom consultancy Seaboard Group. "I just think this whole thing was unpalatable."

The decision can be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal but cannot be overturned by the federal cabinet, the CRTC said.   Continued...