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Second group draws bead on BCE-Astral deal

BCE CEO George Cope, and Astral Media CEO Ian Greenberg share a laugh after a news conference in Montreal March 16, 2012.


A second campaign to derail BCE Inc.'s takeover of Astral Media Inc. has been launched, as a handful of advocacy groups joined together to warn the deal will lead to fewer media voices and higher cable bills.

The campaign – called – is asking Canadians to send a letter to the country's Industry Minster and Competition Bureau voicing their opposition to the $3.2-billion deal which will go before regulators for approval early next month.

It's the second organized campaign against the deal, which would see BCE's media division Bell Media substantially increase the amount of content it owns and distributes.

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The group argues Bell will use its size to dominate smaller rivals, charging them high rates for programming that will eventually be passed to consumers.

"This would create an unprecedented level of media concentration in this country, and lower Canada's status from having one of the least competitive media systems in the industrialized world, to having the least competitive one," the group said.

"This could spell trouble for independent businesses seeking to compete, but more importantly, it could be the beginning of the end of real choice for Canadians."

The group is comprised of, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, Canada Without Poverty, the CWP Advocacy Network, the Canadian Media Guild, the Consumers' Assocation of Canada, the Council of Canadians, the Council of Senior Citizens' Organizations and the Quebec-based Council of Senior Citizens' Organizations of British Columbia (COSCO), Option consommateurs and Union des consommateurs.

The other campaign is called, and is funded by some of Bell's largest competitors, who warn the deal will lead to higher bills as Bell charges them more for programming.

The new group said it decided to start its own campaign because it didn't feel comfortable lining up with corporate titans such as Quebecor Inc. and Cogeco inc., which oppose the deal because of their business interests.

The deal goes before the Canadian Television-radio Telecommunications Commission on Sept. 10, and advocates for both sides of the deal are expected to give a week of presentations.

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The CRTC can kill the deal outright, or allow it to proceed with amendments. The Competition Bureau is also looking at the takeover, and could also scuttle the deal or impose terms.

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