Indie carriers urge CRTC to referee vertically integrated giants

CBC/Radio-Canada, Cogeco Cable and EastLink Cable lined up Thursday to urge the regulator to impose new rules and codes on diversified carriers with broadcast assets.

The notion that competition serves consumers has dominated the CRTC’s hearing into vertical integration this week.

It just depends on competition from whose perspective, and how it affects Canadians that consume content on multiple platforms.

Major vertically integrated players like BCE and Shaw Communications earlier in the week called on the regulator to minimize new rules and codes for programming rights agreements to ensure they can innovate for their subscribers.

In reply, Cogeco Cable on Thursday became the latest indie carrier to warn the CRTC that allowing vertically integrated carriers to run loose portends market abuses, to the detriment of competition and consumers.

“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 CEO Louis Audet told the regulatory hearing, before spelling out a wishlist of new industry rules.

CBC/Radio-Canada president Hubert Lacroix also told the CRTC to not allow the big four private vertically integrated players in Canada – Bell Media, Shaw Media, Quebecor Media and Rogers Communications – to regulate themselves for the benefit of Canadian consumers.

“The commission cannot assume that these companies will voluntarily compromise their commercial and corporate interests and those of their shareholders in order to promote the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. Regulation is thus necessary,” Lacroix said.

Similarly, Natalie MacDonald, VP of regulatory affairs for EastLink Cable, another indie carrier, urged the CRTC to ensure the major vertically integrated players do not use their market dominance to self-deal and dictate to EastLink and others the packaging and pricing of rival content offerings.

“Our concern is when those entities have incentive, combined with opportunity, to grant themselves inappropriate preferences, while excluding, limiting or delaying the access that their competitors have to that content,” MacDonald said.

The CRTC hearings into the impact of vertical integration on the Canadian broadcast system is expected to wrap on Monday.

From Playback Daily