BCE/Aliant Deal - the AT&T Effect Already

It's been a busy day in the Canadian telecom market, and you have to wonder about the timing of this news in the still foaming wake of AT&T's deal, where the ink hasn't even dried yet on all the press around it.

BCE isn't quite on the scale of AT&T, but they certainly occupy the same role in Canada, and share a lot of the same telecom DNA. I'm just going to hit the high points here, as the press release is quite long.

The main idea is this - BCE recently announced it was going to form an Income Trust for their non-urban subscribers - translation - households with limited upside potential for high margin broadband service. With today's news, these lines would be added to the access lines for all of Atlantic Canada to form a consolidated Income Trust that would be controlled by BCE. By adding the whole pot of landlines under Aliant's control, this new entity would represent 3.4 million lines, which includes 400,000+ broadband subscribers. So, in one fell swoop, 4 of Canada's 10 provinces just got lumped into the BCE fold.

What I find so interesting about this is how BCE has managed to treat all of Aliant's landlines the same, and on par with the non-urban lines in their home markets of Ontario and Quebec. Gee, last I looked, Atlantic Canada has some vibrant urban markets - albeit small compared to the rest of Canada, but urban nonetheless. I would love hear what subscribers in places like Halifax or St. John think about all this.

This isn't quite a dramatic as the AT&T deal since BCE already owns 53% of Aliant. But still, with this deal, BCE essentially extends its residential landline monopoly across 6 provinces, and virtually everything going east from Ontario.

The second key announcement - which was only mentioned in passing (hmmm) - was that Bell Mobility will acquire Aliant Mobility - just like that. Boom - there goes another wireless operator. Hey, didn't I just post the other day about the CRTC talking about wanting to see more wireless competition as part of their updated telecom review?

Of course, all of this is subject to CRTC approval, and it will be real interesting to see how this plays in Ottawa. The CRTC has enough telecom issues to deal with as it is - and now this.

The parallels to the AT&T deal are uncanny, and I'm not sure who's doing a better job of consolidation - BCE or AT&T - but they're both on a pretty strong track. Is bigger really better? It's too soon to tell, but if BCE gets its way here, you can be sure that Telus will start lobbying pretty hard to ease or eliminate foreign ownership restrictions. This is probably their best shot at keeping up with BCE in their relentless quest to become - again - a national carrier. Verizon used to have a stake in Telus, much like SBC did with BCE. Just as Canada has lost any semblance of economic sovereignty in the retail sector, the day could soon come for telecom, at least in Western Canada.