The CRTC issued Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2013-310 today, in which it approved the merger of Canada's largest and most heavily integrated communications company (Bell) and Canada's last significant independent (and non-integrated) broadcaster (Astral). In its submissions to this proceeding, CIPPIC called on the Commission to refuse the merger a second time, pointing to a number of flaws in the current regulatory framework that a merged Bell/Astral could exploit in order to harm competition and innovation in Canadian services. Specifically, CIPPIC was concerned post-merger Bell will drive up costs, limit online innovation by centralizing online distribution and restrict customer choice by constraining program packaging. Averting these harms and preserving the public interest in the face of a highly concentrated Bell/Astral will require a more invasive regulatory approach than provided by the Commission's current vertical integration toolset, which relies heavily on flawed dispute resolution mechanisms.
While disappointingly approving the merger, the Commission acknowledges the need for some form of "additional oversight" in light of "BCE's increased ability to act in an anti-competitive manner." Further, it expressly states concerns over online innovation:
that BCE’s market position relating to multiplatform rights could permit it to act as a “gatekeeper,” effectively preventing other distributors from offering services to their customers until BCE has decided to offer such services on its own platforms. The Commission is concerned that this could stifle innovation and limit the growth of digital media in Canada.
However, the Commission appears to adopt a 'wait and see' approach to many of the challenges in question, noting, for example, that it will explore new dispute resolution mechanisms on a 'case by case' basis and in other instances expressing 'expectations' that Bell will not act in an anti-competitive manner, without specifying how it will monitor or enforce these expectations.