BCE Astral fire back at opponents of takeover plan

MONTREAL — BCE Inc. and Astral Media Inc. have fired back at critics of the plan for Astral to sell the bulk of its assets to BCE.In response to interventions filed with the CRTC, the companies say the biggest opponents to the deal are the “large vertically integrated corporations” cable and telecom companies that compete directly with Bell.Bell and Astral dismissed concerns that the takeover would will hurt access to content and pointed to long-term distribution and affiliation agreements it already has in place with its competitors.The broadcast regulator will hold hearings in May to consider Bell’s revised application to buy Astral, after it agreed to sell some of its television assets to make the deal more acceptableThe Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission killed the deal last fall, saying it wasn’t in the best interests of Canadians.Cogeco said if the deal is approved, it would still give an already dominant BCE too large a share of the broadcasting market. Last year, Cogeco formed a coalition with Quebecor Inc. and cable company Eastlink to block the deal.“A primary focus for Bell Media is growth in Quebec and the French-language media marketplace,” said Kevin Crull, president of Bell Media.“Even after the sale of half of Astral’s French-language specialty TV services, Bell Media would increase its viewing share in this market to 22.6% — still less than the 31% viewing share enjoyed by Quebecor, but a significant enhancement to market competition nevertheless.”The Canadian Press