Cogeco Cable wants CRTC to fully regulate communications sector

Cogeco Cable (TSX:CCA) is calling on the federal broadcast regulator to slap tighter controls on Canada’s increasingly concentrated telecommunications and broadcast sector.

GATINEAU, Que. — Cogeco Cable (TSX:CCA) is calling on the federal broadcast regulator to slap tighter controls on Canada’s increasingly concentrated telecommunications and broadcast sector.

The Montreal-based cable TV company told the CRTC on Thursday that a string of takeovers in the industry requires tougher regulation by the commission.

Cogeco noted that BCE Inc., Shaw Communications Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Quebecor Media Inc. together control more than three quarters of all Canadian television programming and distribution revenues.

They also control well over two thirds of all wireline and mobile phone subscribers, Cogeco said.

Cogeco asked the CRTC to reinforce its rules to prevent anticompetitive practices by the big conglomerates.

Specifically, Cogeco said, the regulator needs to crack down on corporate discrimination, undue preferences, refusal to deal, tied selling and margin squeezing that could hurt independent competitors in the industry.

“We believe that these new safeguards will help ensure that the Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications market remains competitive, much to the benefit of Canadian consumers,” Louis Audet, president and CEO of Cogeco Cable, told the commission.

“Indeed, healthy competition helps maintain fair prices, fosters creativity and ensures that consumers can continue to choose between alternative programming, distribution, and telecommunications services and platforms.

“The adoption by the CRTC of these additional safeguards should prevent a small club of vertically integrated conglomerates from taking undue advantage of its dominant position in the Canadian market at the expense of competition and the end users.”

Cogeco is Canada’s fourth biggest cable TV operator, with a strong presence in Ontario and Quebec.

The company also has a cable business in Portugal.

Cogeco said the commission should continue to reject exclusive program rights agreements that preclude or hamper their distribution by non-related distributors.

As well, programs owned by the big cable and satellite companies should be made available to others on fair and reasonable terms and safeguards should be put in place to fight non-competitive practices.

Earlier this week, the CRTC heard from BCE (TSX:BCE), Telus (TSX:T), Rogers (TSX:RCI.B), Shaw and Quebecor (TSX:QBR.B) at the hearings.

Both BCE and Quebecor have called for fewer rules and for the regulator to allow exclusive deals for content on new devices like smartphones and tablets.

They say that exclusive deals help drive innovation.

Rogers and Telus have lined up on the opposite side and called for the regulator to block exclusive deals for content on the new platforms.

Shaw said that although it prefers non-exclusive deals, the current rules are enough to prevent anti-competitive activity.

The commission has been looking into the ownership of television channels by the big cable and satellite companies.

In recent years, much of Canada’s private broadcasting sector has been swallowed up by a handful of big cable and satellite companies, which also own the country’s major wireless networks.

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