Bell slams CRTC for ignoring market realities in Astral decision

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Bell Canada on Monday asked the federal cabinet to put the CRTC back on the policy rails.

The Canadian phone giant said the regulator ignored its own rules, and created “new criteria and metrics” outside of existing policies to justify denying the $3.38 billion Astral Media takeover deal.

“In rejecting the Astral transaction, the CRTC rejected its own established policies, creating serious regulatory uncertainty in Canada’s vital broadcasting sector,” Mirko Bibic, Bell’s chief legal and regulatory officer said Monday in a statement.

The media group in its 18-page formal application to the federal cabinet cited the 2008 Diversity of Voices policy as the correct way to consider broadcasting acquisitions for approval.

The new policy direction was required, the formal request continued, to restore consistency at the CRTC.

“Ultimately and in short time, without such certainty and credibility, stakeholders – including most certainly consumers and those financially invested in Canada’s communications sector – will lose confidence in the ability of the Commission and other public institutions to act in the public interest, resulting in an exodus of capital and stifling Canada’s ambitions as a leader in the new digital economy,” the application stated.

Bell Canada argued the CRTC relied on a 1978 working paper to justify its decision, one “that was developed at a time when Canadians watched 3 or 4 channels via rabbit ears; Saturday Night Fever was the king of the box office and Gloria Gaynor’s “I will Survive” was at the top of the charts.”

The phone giant lashed out at the regulator for ignoring “market realities” as it considered the transaction for approval.

“Unregulated behemoths like Netflix, Apple, Google and Amazon are looking to dominate the communications landscape in a borderless digital world,” the application said as it painted a backdrop against which current takeover deals needed to be considered.

“It is disconcerting, inappropriate and not in the public interest for the commission to be going back to the last century to find a regulatory rationale to deny an ownership transaction that complies fully with the commission’s own modernized regulatory framework,” Bell Canada wrote, reiterating it had fulfilled regulatory requirements to see the Astral Media deal go forward.

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