Canada's TV watchdog urges looser restrictions

CRTC: foreign control of telecom sector will have domino effect

TORONTO -- Canada's TV watchdog on Tuesday urged Ottawa to ease foreign ownership restrictions on domestic broadcasters if, as planned, it liberalizes ownership rules for Canadian telecom companies.

"I don't think you can meaningfully separate broadcasting and telecom in the age of convergence," Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), told a telecom industry conference in Toronto.

Federal industry minister Tony Clement on Monday proposed easing or scrapping foreign ownership limits on local phone companies, while retaining them for culturally sensitive broadcasters.

But von Finckenstein insisted that allowing foreign control of the telecom sector will have a domino effect on the broadcast sector as major Canadian media players like Rogers Communications and Bell Canada already own both telecom and broadcasting businesses.

What's more, the Canadian communications has seen an increasingly complex interplay between cable giants buying up TV content to drive their VOD and wireless phone offerings and broadcasters increasingly owning cable channels and digital assets to retain competitiveness.

Against that industry backdrop, Clement in recent months has sketched out a plan where Canada's communications sector could be reorganized by separating cable, Internet and mobile phone "pipes" from content.

Whose view ultimately prevails in the evolving Canadian industry debate -- Clement's go-it-alone telecom liberalization plans or von Finckenstein's call for equal treatment for phone companies and broadcasters -- will determine whether U.S. companies that currently hold a capped 20% stake in Canuck TV assets can increase those holdings, and even ultimately move to majority control at Ottawa's invitation.
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