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CRTC introduces new framework for integrated media companies

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has announced a new framework intended to eliminate the potential for for large integrated media companies to harm their competitors or restrict consumer choice. The framework will prohibit companies from offering television programs on an exclusive basis to their mobile or Internet subscribers. Any program broadcast on television must be made available to competitors under "fair and reasonable" terms. Companies will be allowed to offer exclusive programming to their Internet or mobile customers provided that it is produced specifically for an Internet portal or a mobile device. Companies must also adopt a code of conduct intended to prevent anti-competitive behaviour and ensure that distributors, broadcasters and online programming services negotiate in good faith. The framework will also implement measures intended to ensure that independent distributors and broadcasters are treated fairly by large integrated companies. At least 25% of a specialty service distributed by a large integrated company must be owned by an independent broadcaster. In addition, broadcasters launching a new pay or specialty service must make it available upon request to all distributors as an individual service, even if a commercial agreement has not been finalized. The CRTC will also "strongly encourage" television distribution companies to give consumers more flexibility in choosing the individual services that make up a subscription package. "Given the size of the Canadian market, there are benefits to integrating television programming and distribution services under the same corporate umbrella," said Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the CRTC. "At the same time, we felt that some safeguards were needed to prevent anti-competitive behaviour. In particular, Canadians shouldn't be forced to buy a mobile device from a specific company or subscribe to its Internet service simply to access their favourite television programs. Canadians enjoy watching programs online as it gives them the freedom to effectively pick and pay for what they want. They find it difficult to accept that their cable and satellite television providers do not offer similar choice and flexibility. If the industry fails to demonstrate that it has made significant strides in introducing consumer-friendly options, we will hold hearings on this issue in six months and take regulatory action."

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