Canada regulator tightens mobile, Internet rules

Wed Sep 21, 2011 5:38pm EDT
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(Reuters) - Canadian companies that own both television content and the means to distribute it will face tighter rules for selling programing rights to rivals, the country's broadcast and telecom regulator said on Wednesday

Telecom and cable companies in Canada have snatched up content providers as they move aggressively to offer their customers valuable content such as sports, films and business news on an growing array of devices including home computers, smartphones and tablet computers such as Apple's iPad.

Critics say such vertically integrated companies could use their control of content to unfairly disadvantage rivals.

The regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), essentially closed off that possibility on Wednesday, blocking the owner of any television programs from offering it on an exclusive basis only to their own mobile or Internet subscribers.

Broadcasters remain free to offer exclusive content on television, but if they offer that content online or on mobile platforms it must be made available to competitors on fair and reasonable terms.

Telus, the only major wireless and Internet provider in the country that does not own a broadcasting unit, cheered the CRTC decision.

"From now on, vertically integrated companies like Bell Media and Shaw Media may no longer block access to content in order to drive-up costs all the while benefiting their own distribution services," the company said.

The CRTC opened the review into so-called vertical integration in October last year on the same day it approved cable company Shaw Communications' C$2 billion ($2 billion) acquisition of the television assets of distressed media company Canwest.

At that time it was also due to consider approval of Bell parent BCE Inc's C$1.3 billion purchase of CTV, Canada's largest private broadcaster. It later approved that deal, but barred Bell from offering exclusive content via the Internet or mobile devices pending the outcome of its review.   Continued...