Canada telecoms say rule changes must apply to all

Thu Apr 15, 2010 2:49pm EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Any changes Canada makes to ease restrictions on foreign control and ownership of telecom companies must apply to all carriers, including cable operators, the country's biggest telecoms companies told a parliamentary hearing on Thursday.

BCE Inc, Rogers Communications and Telus Corp told lawmakers that all carriers must be included because networks today typically carry an array of traffic including phone calls, TV programs and data.

Canada is holding hearings to consider raising the limits on foreign ownership of domestic telecoms as a way to boost competition, create jobs and foster innovation.

The issue was brought into focus late last year when the federal cabinet overturned a ruling by the regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and allowed Egyptian-backed start-up Globalive to offer wireless phone service in Canada.

The CRTC had ruled that Globalive's ownership was not sufficiently Canadian.

Foreign ownership is now limited to 20 percent of a company's shares, while direct and indirect foreign control is capped at 46.7 percent.

"Fairness requires equal treatment for all Canadian carriers," said Michael Hennessy, senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs at Telus.

"Parliament must recognize that communications today is an integrated business and you cannot effect change without changing the Telecommunications Act and parts of the Broadcasting Act at the same time."

Worries that Canadian culture will be hurt are unfounded, the executives said. Restrictions can remain for foreign control of broadcast companies that create programs, while being eased for distributors or carriers that transmit the content.   Continued...