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Hostile Takeover Faces Resistance: Altice USA and Rogers Want Atlantic Broadband and Cogeco

A Quebec-based cable company is the target of a hostile takeover by a pair of larger American and Canadian cable operators that would like to divide up the assets for themselves, but have met strong resistance from the family that controls Cogeco and Quebec politicians worried about job losses in the province.

Altice USA, which owns Cablevision/Optimum and Suddenlink in the United States, made an uninvited bid of $7.8US billion on Wednesday to take control of Cogeco, a Canadian cable operator that offers service in parts of Ontario and Quebec, and also owns American subsidiary Atlantic Broadband. If the takeover is successful, Altice has agreed to sell Cogeco’s Canadian assets to telecom giant Rogers, Canada’s largest cable operator.

Louis AUDET, head of Cogeco

The Audet family, which holds 69% of Cogeco’s voting rights and 82.9% of the voting rights at Cogeco Communications through subsidiary Gestion Audem, Inc., quickly rejected the offer.

“Members of the Audet family unanimously reiterated that they are not interested in selling their shares. The family takes pride in its stewardship role in both companies, offering high-quality services to its customers, enriching the communities in which they operate and creating superior returns for shareholders through sound growth strategies,” said Louis Audet, who serves as president of Gestion Audem, Inc.

Cogeco has been a frequently rumored target for an imminent corporate takeover, much like America’s Cablevision was when it was controlled by the Dolan family. Ongoing consolidation among telecom companies in Canada and the United States have disfavored medium-sized cable and phone companies, making them ripe for takeover bids. Cogeco’s unique position in territories where much larger Rogers Cable operates in Ontario and Videotron in Quebec has inspired near-constant rumors that Rogers would acquire Cogeco to complete cable consolidation in Ontario and gain entry into parts of Quebec. Rogers already owns 41% of the subordinate shares of Cogeco and 33% of those of Cogeco Communications, which gives them a minority stake and voice in the company. Partnering with Altice USA to do a deal would spare Rogers from having to arrange a sale of Cogeco’s American operations.

In addition to strong resistance from the Audet family, the transaction immediately was ensnared in the cultural and economic hornet’s nest involving Ontario and Quebec provincial politics. Quebec politicians are highly sensitive to takeovers involving Quebec-based companies, especially those coming from Ontario. In 2000, Rogers’ attempt to acquire Videotron stirred controversy over moving the cable company’s headquarters out of Quebec in favor of Ontario. The fact Rogers is based in English-speaking Canada also did it no favors. French Quebec’s Quebecor acquired Videotron instead.

Once again, political differences between anglophone Ontario and francophone Quebec quickly re-emerged after news of the offer went public.

In an interview with Quebec City radio station CJMF, Quebec’s Premier François Legault immediately dismissed the takeover bid.

“It is out of the question to let this Quebec company move its head office to Ontario,” Legault said. “We talked this morning with Louis Audet […] and we’ll do whatever it takes to keep the head office here.”

Pierre Karl Péladeau, president and CEO of Quebecor, which owns Videotron, also slammed the deal on Twitter, claiming Rogers would eliminate Cogeco’s major corporate presence in Montréal Place Ville Marie, and move everything to Toronto. Péladeau noted Cogeco’s most valuable and experienced employees are not “flying whales” prepared to uproot their lives and relocate to Ontario.

The sensitivity of watching job losses in Quebec in return for job gains in Ontario is not likely to be missed by Quebec’s politicians and could bring significant opposition to a deal if Altice USA sweetens its offer to a level deemed acceptable enough by the Audet family to sell.

Canadian Mobile Operators Raking in Fat Coronavirus Profits With Bill Shock

Canadians are opening cell phone bills that have skyrocketed as a result of usage from work-at-home initiatives to stop the spread of COVID-19, a health crisis that is also fattening profits at some of the country’s biggest mobile operators.

Rosette Okala of Pickering, a suburb of Toronto, was stunned to receive her Rogers Mobile bill this month for $540, up from the usual $160 she is used to paying.

“I almost dropped,” Okala told CBC News. She is a pharmaceutical employee whose job requires being online. Her 12-year-old son has been online more too, doing schoolwork.

The part of Pickering where Okala lives does not have wired internet service available, so she relies on internet service from her mobile provider, like hundreds of thousands of other Canadians do. Pickering is hardly a tiny town either. With a population of 92,000, the city is immediately east of Toronto in the Durham Region. Despite that, there are sections of the city still waiting to get wired internet service.

Using the internet in areas considered to be “rural Canada” by providers is not cheap. Rogers offers customers a $145/mo wireless internet plan that includes 100 GB of usage. Customers that exceed that do so at their peril, facing overlimit fees of $5/GB.

“This is just a slap in our face,” said Okala. “We [rural customers] pay huge bills just to be able to do something basic that most people take for granted.”

Okala hoped her employer would help cover her phone bill. Rogers has been reluctant to help, despite a showy ad campaign from the cable and wireless giant promising customers “we are in this together and are here to help.” When it comes to billing matters, talk is cheap and help is hard to find.

Pickering, Ont.

Okala said she spent hours on the phone with a Rogers representative trying to negotiate a lower bill. Rogers eventually offered a paltry $30 credit and a payment plan to pay off her balance. A second attempt resulted in an improved offer of $100 credit, an upgrade to a different service plan, and 50% off monthly service fees for 24 months. But Rogers still wanted to be paid at least $440, at least until the CBC pointed out it would share Okala’s story with the rest of Canada for free. Rogers suddenly offered to take another $230 off Okala’s March bill and give her the mobile hotspot hub she was leasing for free.

John Burbidge, a University of Waterloo economics professor in North Dumfries living in a town of 10,000 near Cambridge, Ont., got schooled in the mobile broadband business by Bell Mobility, which sent him a bill for $650, including nearly $400 in usage charges. Burbidge was confused by an email from Bell, Canada’s largest phone company, which claimed it was waiving overlimit usage fees for customers during the pandemic. He missed the fine print advising that fee waiver only applied to Bell’s DSL and fiber wired customers, not wireless data plans. Burbidge argued it was unfair to exempt some customers from usage fees, while continuing to charge them to others.

“If rural Canadians are expected to work and do school work from home, decent and reasonably priced access to the internet is a basic right. Bell should not be allowed to gouge rural customers,” Burbidge told Canada’s public broadcaster.

Bell told the CBC the company was offering customers an extra 10 GB on customer data allowances and a $10 credit off the cost of using a mobile hotspot connected to Bell’s mobile network. As a courtesy, Bell agreed to credit Burbidge’s account $350 for March and take 60% off overlimit fees in April, but he is on his own after that. Burbidge’s current plan charges $180 a month for up to 100 GB a month, with a $5/GB overlimit fee.

“It’s really sad to hear,” Laura Tribe, executive director of consumer group OpenMedia told the CBC. “Data caps are definitely unnecessary. We see them as a punitive mechanism to make sure that people suppress the amount of data that they use and overpay when they go over what they want.”

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), an industry lobbying group representing the country’s wireless companies, claims data caps are necessary to prevent overwhelming Canada’s wireless networks, which could make calling 911 impossible. But voice calls can travel over different spectrum than data traffic, and no wireless company or the CWTA would admit if their networks were close to being overhwhelmed by traffic as a result of millions of Canadians working from home.

Tribe says the traffic spikes that have come from the coronavirus crisis prove her point. Even with data usage at all-time highs, no provider is claiming their network is close to capacity. That should call into question whether there is any need at all for mobile data caps.

“They’re a way to increase profits and suppress the usage of the networks,” said Tribe.

Rogers Announces “Infinite” Data Plans That Are Finite and Throttle You

Canadians, living under a regime of three national wireless carriers (Bell, Rogers, and Telus) pay some of the highest wireless prices in the world. A new plan announced today from Rogers Communications is unlikely to change that.

“Introducing Rogers Infinite – Unlimited Data plans for Infinite Possibilities,” or so claims Rogers’ website.

Canadians’ initial enthusiasm and excitement for Rogers’ new “unlimited data plans” was quickly tempered by the accompanying fine print that makes it clear the plans may be free of overlimit fees, but very much limit their usability once the data allowance runs out. Customers can pool data with family and friends, but Rogers did not mention exactly how.

Rogers Infinite oddly offers three different price tiers, based on… usage, which is strange for an “unlimited” plan:

  • Infinite +10 offers 10 GB of data at traditional 4G LTE speed, bundled with unlimited calling and texting for $75 a month.
  • Infinite +20 offers 20 GB of data at traditional 4G LTE speed, bundled with unlimited calling and texting for $95 a month.
  • Infinite +50 offers 50 GB of data at traditional 4G LTE speed, bundled with unlimited calling and texting for $125 a month.

Those prices are steep by American standards, but Rogers also incorporates fine print that few carriers south of the border would attempt. First, Mobile Syrup reports included calls and texts must be from a Canadian number to a Canadian number. Extra fees may apply if you contact your friends in America and beyond. The “infinite” runs out when your allowance does. After that, it may take an infinitely long time to use your device because Rogers will throttle upload and download speeds to a maximum of 256 kbps for the rest of the billing cycle. American carriers, in contrast, typically only throttle customers on busy cell towers after exceeding an average of 20-50 GB of usage, although some mandate a throttle based entirely on usage. If customers want more high-speed data, they can purchase a Rogers Speed Pass for $15 and receive an extra 3 GB of high-speed data. In contrast, T-Mobile offers U.S. customers an unlimited line for $60 with no speed throttle until usage exceeds 50 GB a month. That is less than half the cost of Rogers’ Infinite +50 plan for an equal amount of high-speed data.

More fine print:

Rogers Infinite data plans include 10 GB, 20 GB or 50 GB of data at max speed on the Rogers network, extended coverage areas within Canada, and Roam Like Home destinations (see rogers.com/roamlikehome). You will continue to have access to data services with no overage beyond the max speed allotment at a reduced speed of up to 256 kilobits per second (for both upload and download) until the end of your current billing cycle. Applications such as email, web browsing, apps, and audio/video streaming will continue to function at a reduced speed which will likely impact your experience. We will send you a text message notifying you when you have used 90% and 100% of the max speed allotment included in your plan with the option to purchase a Speed Pass to add more max speed data to your plan. In all cases, usage is subject to the Rogers Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policy.

Unlocked Phone Rule Sparks Carrier-Alleged Smartphone Crime Spree in Canada

Phillip Dampier August 21, 2018 Bell (Canada), Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rogers, Video, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Unlocked Phone Rule Sparks Carrier-Alleged Smartphone Crime Spree in Canada

Criminals are supposedly having a field day robbing cell phone stores in Canada after regulators ordered all cell phones to be sold unlocked, allowing customers to bring their devices to other carriers.

“There have been multiple instances of armed robberies at our stores targeting unlocked, new devices,” Bell Canada complained in a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). “We believe this trend is attributable to the availability of unlocked devices [that are] more desirable to fraudsters and thieves.”

Because Canada’s three major carrier-cell phone marketplace is seen as less competitive and more expensive than the United States, the CRTC has tried to keep wireless service costs under control by regulating some of the practices of the barely competitive Canadian market. One such initiative is the ban on charging unlock fees on devices, which carriers used to deter customers from changing providers. As of last December, carriers could no longer collect an average of $50 to unlock each device, and new devices had to be sold to customers in an unlocked state, allowing them to be used on any compatible wireless provider’s network.

Rogers, which runs Canada’s largest cable operator and has a major market share of Canada’s wireless market, claims the unintended consequence of the CRTC’s unlock policy is a 100% increase in cell phone thievery during the last six months the policy has been in effect. Rogers reports thieves are stealing brand new cell phones in the mail or off a customer’s front step after the shipper drops the package off. Brazen armed robberies of cell phone stores have been more common in the United States, but providers claim criminal gangs are now taking their business north of the border, holding up stores and running off with dozens of valuable phones.

Both Bell and Rogers warned the CRTC last year thievery would be the likely result of providing unlocked phones. Consumer groups claim both providers have a vested interest complaining about the new unlock policies. In 2016, Canadian telecom companies made $37.7 million from fees related to unlocking smartphones. That was a 75 percent increase in fee revenue since 2014.

Canadian consumers called unlock charges “ransom fees,” and were particularly upset paying fees after they paid off the device.

“You should be able to unlock it [for free] at the very least once you’ve paid off the device. You own it,” John Lawford, executive director with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa told the CBC.

Lawford calls unlock fees an intended consequence of the industry’s own policies. Cell phone companies sell devices manufacturers have to lock at the behest of carriers, and then consumers face fees paid to the same carriers to undo the lock.

Canada’s providers often point to examples of armed robberies and truck hijacking south of the Canadian border as a reason to be concerned about employee and customer safety. In the view of some, an unlocked smartphone worth more than $500 is an invitation to steal.

Bell told regulators things are certain to get worse in Canada.

“It appears that illegal activity may have shifted from the U.S. to Canada as some [American] carriers have begun to lock devices,” Bell officials told the CRTC.

Bell was referring to Verizon’s unilateral announcement it began relocking smartphones in February, despite its agreement not to as part of an acquisition of 700 MHz spectrum in 2008. That prime spectrum came with strings attached, including a requirement not to disable or restrict devices that use the spectrum, something locked phones do. Verizon previously tested the waters on reintroducing locked cell phones during the second term of the Obama Administration, but the idea met immediate resistance from FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler.

In 2018, Verizon found a much more receptive audience from the Republican-dominated FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai, and has gradually returned to locking down devices on Verizon’s network. Last spring, Verizon began locking all smartphones sent to stores, to be unlocked after purchase. Verizon argued this would deter armed gangs from hijacking deliveries or raiding stores to steal phones by the dozens, to be resold to the eager black market.

After meeting little resistance, Verizon announced it would start locking phones for an arbitrary amount of time after purchase, defined in terms of “months, not years.”

If thieves obtain a stolen, locked phone, it cannot generally be activated by the customer unless taken to an authorized retailer. This theoretically leaves thieves stuck with worthless phones, which is why Canadian carriers claim the country’s unlocked phone policy will draw American thieves north. But critics suspect financial motives hold more sway. In addition to charging lucrative fees for unlocking phones, customers unable to take their device with them to a new carrier can effectively deter a provider change, especially for family accounts where multiple devices would need to be moved.

Others claim locking phones is not the best way to deter thieves, because an unscrupulous Verizon employee or reseller can still unlock them for thieves.

The wireless industry already claims to have a voluntary, industry-led initiative to dramatically reduce theft — a national database of stolen/lost phones. Under this system, a would-be customer is denied activation if their device’s unique ID appears on a list of stolen or lost phones.

CBC Calgary reports Canadians no longer face unlock fees on their smartphones and other wireless devices. (3:55)

Competition Drives Internet Prices Down 45% in Toronto This Summer

Fierce competition by eastern Canada’s largest internet service providers are driving down prices across the Greater Toronto Area by as much as 45%.

Bell’s fiber to the home service, making its way across parts of the GTA, is now offering unlimited gigabit (1,000/940 Mbps) internet for $79.95 a month, a major drop from its original price of $149.95, if customers sign up before the end of July. Those signing up by July 7 can also get a $50 gift card.

Rogers, the country’s biggest cable company, has been pushing its own limited time promotional offer for its gigabit (1,000/30 Mbps) package, which is more widely available than Bell’s Fibe but also suffers from anemic upload speed. Rogers was selling the package for $152.99/month, but it’s now $79.99 for the first year. The offer is good throughout Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland.

The two telecom companies are trying to boost subscriber numbers during the slow summer months when quarterly financial reports can show a decrease in customers.

Canadians have generally had less access to gigabit speed plans than their American neighbors. Experts believe these companies are cutting prices to hook people on super-fast internet plans that will change consumer attitudes about gigabit speed from an unaffordable luxury into a necessity. Like Americans, Canadians are gravitating towards faster speed plans at an accelerating rate. They also continue to choose unlimited plans wherever available.

There are the usual terms and conditions in the fine print to consider:

Rogers: Offer available for a limited time to new Rogers internet subscribers within Rogers cable service area in Ontario (where technology permits). Subject to change without notice. Data usage subject to Rogers Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policy. See rogers.com/terms for full details. Taxes extra. One-time activation fee of $14.95 and one-time installation fee (waived for Self-Install; Basic $49.99 or Professional $99.99) apply. Savings as compared to regular price for 12 months. Advertised regular price applies in month 13, subject to any applicable rate increases.

Speeds may vary with internet traffic, server gateway/router, computer (quality, location in the home, software and applications installed), home wiring, home network or other factors. See Acceptable Use Policy at rogers.com/terms. An Ethernet/wired connection and at least one additional wired or wireless connection are required to reach maximum download speeds of up to 1 Gbps for Rogers Ignite Gigabit Internet. Offer available until July 31, 2018 within Rogers cable service area (where technology permits) to new customers subscribing to Ignite Internet 60u or above.

Bell: Offer ends on July 31, 2018. Available to new residential customers in Ontario, where access and technology permit. For certain offers, the customer must select e-billing and create a MyBell profile. Modem rental required; one-time modem rental fee waived for new customers. Subject to change without notice and cannot be combined with any other offer. Taxes extra. Other conditions apply, including minimum system requirements. Subject to compliance with the Bell Terms of service; bell.ca/agreements.. Speeds on the internet may vary with your configuration, internet traffic, server, environmental conditions, simultaneous use of Fibe TV (if applicable) or other factors; bell.ca/speedguide.

$50 gift card promotion: Offer ends on July 7, 2018. The selected internet tier must include unlimited usage. An unloaded gift card will be mailed after the customer maintains a continuous subscription to the same eligible Bell services and has an account in good standing for 60 days following the installation of all services. All services need to be activated by July 31, 2018. Not combinable with any other offers or promotions. Subject to change without notice. One gift card per account. When received, customer must register the gift card online at bellgiftcard.com to request loading of the amount. Allow 30 days for gift card to be loaded and ready to use. If you cancel your services before you activate your gift card, you will not be able to use your gift card. Gift card and use are subject to the card program. Other conditions apply; see bell.ca/fullinstall.

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