The finishing line for approvals or rejections of the Rogers-Shaw merger is near. With the CRTC approval of merging cable TV assets in the bag, Rogers now needs to peel off Shaw’s Freedom Wireless from the $26 billion deal in order to satisfy the federal government. They have at least two bidders.
Opponents of the merger are turning up the heat on the Liberals to exercise their veto. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has filed a appeal of the CRTC ruling to the federal cabinet to stop the merger. PIAC says that Rogers will raise TV prices for Shaw customers by forcing them on to Rogers’ more expensive and fully featured IPTV platform. The difficulty for PIAC is that the CRTC considered this consumer issue and met it by accepting Rogers’ commitment not to do it:
The Commission finds that Rogers’ commitments will ensure that the interests of Shaw consumers will be adequately safeguarded. In particular, the Commission finds that Rogers’ commitment to continue offering television-only packages adequately addresses the Commission’s concerns regarding pricing increases for low-income households and seniors. Accordingly, the Commission expects Rogers to inform Shaw customers that their contracts will be honoured and, 90 days before the end of their current contracts with Shaw, to inform them of what options will be available once their contracts end, including how they will be able to continue to receive the same or a similar level of service. In addition, the Commission expects Rogers to maintain or improve the quality of service for current Shaw customers, as well as to maintain or improve the accessibility of all services for customers with disabilities. Further, the Commission expects Rogers to consult with the relevant communities and take their feedback into consideration with regard to the accessibility of its services.
As you can see, the Commission expressed an expectation of corporate behaviour, not a guarantee, which isn’t surprising given that the CRTC rarely regulates retail television pricing. In addition, Rogers is replacing Shaw in markets where it had no previous foothold, so that weakens any anti-merger case to the Competition Bureau based on the statutory test of “significantly reducing competition.”
In short, this merger is going through unless it is stopped politically.
Coincidentally, this was the week that merger and competition law reform was back in the news.
Senator Howard Wetston issued his report on a consultation he began in late 2021. Having gathered submissions from both establishment lawyers and reform scholars of competition law, the former federal judge and Competition Bureau prosecutor listed a handful of no-brainer reforms that already enjoy consensus support. He recommended assigning the contentious issues to an expert committee.
The Liberals’ federal budget omnibus Bill has picked up on some of the Wetston recommendations and will, for example, uncap the $10 million limitation on Competition Bureau fines in favour of a $15 million cap or 3% of the transgressor’s global revenues. In addition, the legislation clearly contemplates Silicon Valley market power by explicitly defining anti-competitive behaviour to include the “network effects” of users and data that make Big Tech mergers so controversial.
Bill C-18 was back in the news despite being paused at Second Reading. MPs at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU) had Twitter and Meta officials on the witness stand on April 26th to discuss the “Rise of Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism in Canada.”
While news coverage of the committee meeting reported Facebook’s Rachel Curran refusing to rule out a reprise of Mark Zuckerberg’s hardball tactics in Australia a year ago— when he yanked the Facebook Newsfeed for a week in a failed attempt to defeat pay-for-news legislation– in fact the video coverage (at the 12:20 mark) reveals Curran diplomatically evading the question raised by Conservative MP Raquel Dancho. She did however anger Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez by falsely claiming Facebook had not been consulted about C-18.
What was more interesting about the SECU meeting was Curran test-driving Facebook’s new political narrative: that the whistle-blower allegations made by Frances Haugen are wrong and in fact Facebook has the least influence on misinformation and political polarization compared to politicians and even mainstream media.
We’ll hear much more of that if and when we have an Online Safety Bill to debate.