Rogers-Bell collaboration bad for Canada

December 13 2011 by Ellen Roseman

Last Friday, we learned that Canada’s two telecom giants were buying a majority stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Media coverage was sympathetic.

CEOs George Cope of Bell and Nadir Mohammed of Rogers said they were avid sports fans and weighed the chances of the Leafs finally winning a Stanley Cup. (The Rogers CEO hoped the Blue Jays would win the World Series at the same time.)

What about fairness? Isn’t it anti-competitive to have the two rivals team up to gain a stranglehold on sports ownership and broadcasting rights? Can the CBC hang on to Hockey Night in Canada once Bell-owned CTV muscles into its territory?

It’s good to hear that the Competition Bureau will review the deal before it’s approved. Commissioner Melanie Aitken is a tiger when it comes to anti-competitive behaviour.

I don’t like the deal because I think this duo has too much power already. I didn’t see many mainstream media commentators take this stand, but did find some sympathy among bloggers such as Medium Close Up.

This concentration of power will be bad for everyone. While Bell and Rogers are busy divvying up the nation, they leave little room for their competition. This means they can do with sports content what they have done with mobile technology and cable and satellite delivery. They can control access and they can control price.

All you have to do to see the future is to look at what these to companies have done in the past. Canadians pay among the highest rates in the world for mobile service and internet access, and Bell and Rogers continually strive to keep competition out through influence on government and regulatory bodies and with unfair discount practices that disappear when the competition is wiped out.

What do you think? Should the federal government stand up to these corporate bullies? Is it time to take a stand against a homegrown media and telecommunications cartel?

Let’s not treat this as a done deal. Let’s discuss what it means to consumers before it’s too late.