A Media Conglomerate In the Making?

Rogers Communications Inc. of Canada is trying to buy a huge Canadian publisher, hoping to build a behemoth fot the global information highway

he media, though it's supposed to be liberal and, by abstraction, "of the people," is actually pretty concentrated among rich multinationals. No surprises there.

But it's interesting that only one of the top three megamedia corporations is "American," and that's Time Warner, the leader, The other two are Bertelsmann AG of Germany, which built much of its empire with book publishing; the other is Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. of, at least by origin, Australia. It built its empire with garbage journalism.

U.S. news outlets haven't covered much of what's going on up in Canada as CDN$1.3 billion Rogers Communications Inc. tries to take over CDN$3.1 billion Maclean Hunter Ltd., sort of a northern equivalent of Time or Newsweek.

But the implications are far-reaching for high-tech, and especially for the shape of the -- yes, we have to use the term again -- global information superhighway.

This megamerger in the working -- as this goes to press, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is deciding whether to allow it -- is an unusual arrangement.

Among Rogers' assets are Canada's largest cable system; the country's leading cellular phone company; 16 radio stations; and a sizable wedge of Unitel, the country's leading alternative long-distance service provider. Married to Maclean Hunter, the "new" Rogers would also control 61.8 percent of the Toronto Star, and major newspapers in Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton. It would also own dozens of magazines, including Macleans -- similar to Time -- and the Financial Post, sort of like the Wall Street Journal.

That would make the new Rogers No. 2 in communications under Bell Canada, which, with Canada's equivalent to the RBOCs, controls the country's phone service by and large.

Sound like a familiar story? Yes and no. That's about as horizontal a company as you could find, owning a big part of the means to access airwaves and the content on them. Imagine a TCI, Time Warner, Sprint and McCaw Cellular merger.

Critics, meanwhile, say the CRTC has always been tight with the cable business -- solidified in Canada long before it was here -- and will likely approve the deal.

Rogers' people say the conglomerate would serve to protect Canadian culture from the Bertelsmanns, the Murdochs, the HBOs and so on. Skeptics say Rogers is just trying to impress Wall Street and its Toronto equivalent, Bay Street, while developing a major cable monopoly.

But monopolies aren't good for anybody except the monopoly itself. Not for business, not for the consumer, not for the high-tech companies trying to provide services. And in this case, not good for Canada.


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