Friday, June 22, 2007

Support Bill-Us or the terrorists win

Mr. Entwistle let no beneficiary, real or imagined, go unmentioned:

"A national champion capable of progressing a strong innovation agenda ... a national champion that could serve key public sector components like security, like health care, like education."

The security theme is one he returned to again and again. "Do you think, for example, that Washington would countenance an AT&T or Verizon being sold [to] a foreign entity?" he asked in an interview. "You look back to 9/11 and some of what hit the newspapers afterwards, in terms of the government accessing phone records from Verizon."

So if the feds don't allow Telus to buy BCE, it's the terrorists who win?

I've parsed this every way I can and it seems in context the only possible interpretation is that Canada should allow the Bell/Telus merger in case the government ever needs to engage in a massive program of illegal wire-tapping of Canadians.

The sudden onslaught of anti-Verizon rhetoric from Entwistle is interesting, because up until very recently Verizon was an all but controlling partner for Telus with the maximum stake allowed under Canadian ownership rules. Product lines and services were being harmonized and it was clear to us that only foreign ownership rules kept them from taking over completely.

Verizon got out a couple years ago, at the same time all the American Telcos started divesting of their Canadian telco participation. Now apparently they're the enemy, in the straw man threat that our only choices are to allow the Bell/Telus unholy union or let Bell and eventually Telus be bought by foreigners.

Don't expect any challenge from the press to this false choice. Aside from Decloet's muted criticism and Reguly's pointed critique of Canada's wireless competitive environment compared to Europe's, the Globe and Mail is rapturous. Lot's of circumspect enthusing about 'synergies' and 'efficiency's'. This, for those who haven't learned business press speak, means 'Yay! We can eliminate thousands of Canadian jobs! Yay!'

The greater political negative for this deal might be the significant job losses that would undoubtedly ensue as the two competitors streamlined to take advantage of all the synergies that a merger can bring. They would not need as many call centres, phone stores, billing operations or service staff when operations overlapped, especially in markets where both companies have big wireless operations. Thousands of jobs could be affected at two of Canada's largest employers, and this could create enough fallout to erode political support.

Of course there is no requirement that a business deal should be rejected on the basis of job cuts - especially by regulators whose mandate is to protect competition rather than jobs. And there may be a good argument that long-term viability is ultimately better for the companies and for their workers, creating a vibrant market player with less debt and more ability to grow and innovate.

So easily does the Globe and Mail our national paper of record dismiss the elimination of thousands of Canadian jobs - behind a firewall naturally - with some stale social Darwinism and pious 'it's for their own good' rhetoric. The only real concern is over the political fuss the bloodbath would create.

This deal would be bad for workers and consumers.

In federal politics only the NDP seem even remotely concerned about this development with both the Liberals and Conservatives signalling their support.

Update: Check out The Progressive Economics Forum for a thoughtful piece on the unchallenged economic fallacies in the entire neo-liberal approach to utilities.

First, was it not just a year ago that both BCE and Telus was going to convert to income trusts. Then when income trusts rightly got shot down, the game was private equity. Now it is mergers. It seems that senior management are obsessed with ploys that play to the financial markets, in order to boost share prices and therefore justify their massive salaries, rather than actually running a good company. I cannot speak for Bell, but Telus is all marketing campaign (a successful one featuring cute animals) but notoriously bad customer service.

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