CRTC Ready to ‘Enforce’ Sports TV Spat Between Quebecor, Bell to ‘Protect Public Interest’ [u]

Quebecor and Bell Media are currently embroiled in a sports TV dispute, just head of the launch of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

According to Quebecor yesterday, the company said it is planning to cut off TVA Sports access to Bell TV subscribers starting today, ahead of the start of the NHL postseason.

Quebecor blames the dispute on Bell and claims it is not paid appropriately, with on online campaign detailing the disparities. Bell said “Quebecor’s reckless campaign and illegal actions are all about our negotiations over pricing for its TVA Sports channel and Bell’s Media’s RDS sports network.”

Now, the CRTC says it is ready to step in and intervene between the dispute, to ensure both Quebecor and Bell respect Broadcasting Distribution Regulations (BDU).

According to BDU Discretionary Services Regulations, any dispute between two parties means programming and services must continue to be made available at the same rates, terms and conditions as previously.

A letter sent to Quebecor and Bell Canada by CRTC Secretary General, Claude Doucet, dated April 10, 2019, said:

The Commission is prepared to intervene where it finds that parties are acting in a manner that is inconsistent with the public interest. Such targeted intervention may be necessary to ensure a healthy, dynamic retail market that maximizes consumer choice and flexibility, and provides Canadians with access to a diverse range of programming.

“The Commission has determined that Bell and Québecor are engaged in such a dispute and therefore the standstill rule applies,” Doucet explains.

“Withholding or otherwise interfering with signals by either party such that Canadians are prevented from enjoying the programming would amount to changing the terms of carriage,” said Doucet.

The CRTC says “it is prepared to use the means at its disposal to enforce its regulations,” which could include an expedited hearing to “issue a mandatory order” under rules of the Broadcasting Act.

This quick reaction by the CRTC is all in the name of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, right?

Update: Bell has now issued a statement reacting to the CRTC decision:

“The CRTC has made it quite clear to Quebecor that it must comply with the law and continue to provide TVA Sports to Bell customers who’ve paid for it. It’s highly inappropriate for Quebecor to make these threats to illegally deny service and in effect take viewers hostage over a business disagreement,” said Martine Turcotte, Bell’s Vice Chair, Québec. “We’ve always negotiated in good faith and invite Quebecor to do the same.”

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