Canada to review foreign ownership limits

Probe affects broadcasters and telecom companies

TORONTO -- In the latest sign the Canadian government aims to allow foreign companies to eventually acquire controlling stakes in domestic media assets, a Parliamentary committee has agreed to review foreign ownership limits on Canadian broadcasters, satellite and telecom companies.

The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology named Conservative MP Michael Chong to oversee a probe into Canada's foreign ownership laws as it relates to the federal Broadcasting Act, the Telecommunications Act, the Radiocommunications Act and "any other legislation deemed appropriate," according to the committee meeting minutes.

The Parliamentary committee said it ordered the review after Ottawa recently approved the entry of upstart Globalive Communications into Canada's mobile phone market, despite being mostly backed by an Egyptian company.

The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology in 2003 and 2006 recommended that Ottawa lift foreign ownership limits during two earlier reviews of the issue.

On March 4, the federal government's Throne Speech, which telegraphs its latest legislative agenda, included a commitment to phased liberalization of foreign ownership rules for domestic telecom and satellite companies, a move likely to have a knock-on impact on Canadian cable and broadcast players.

Ottawa then followed that up by agreeing to consider an application from to start a new business in Canada in competition with domestic book retailers.

Legislative changes to Canada's Telecommunications Act to allow foreign companies to purchase controlling stakes in media groups like Rogers Communications, Bell Canada and Telus Corp. is expected to unleash a slew of eventual acquisitions of local broadcasters.