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Canada competition bureau backs $2.9 billion BCE-Astral dealUS-ASTRAL-BCE-ANNOUNCEMENT:Canada competition bureau backs $2.9 billion BCE-Astral deal
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Competition Bureau conditionally approved a C$3 billion ($2.9 billion) plan by BCE Inc, the country's biggest telecom company, to buy Astral Media Inc on Monday, but the offer must still pass muster with the telecom regulator.
The competition watchdog said its approval is contingent on BCE, a growing broadcaster, selling a range of Astral's pay- and specialty-TV channels, including several Disney channels.
In addition, the bureau said that BCE, whose telecom operations use the Bell Canada name, must not impose "restrictive bundling requirements" on any rival provider seeking to carry Astral's flagship movie channels in either English or French.
In a separate statement, BCE said Corus Entertainment Inc would buy Astral's share of six television joint ventures as well as two radio stations for C$400.6 million, and that a process in under way to sell more assets.
The broadcast and telecom regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, rejected BCE's first offer for Astral in October.
The commission is expected to reveal details of BCE's subsequent offer this week, when it sets a date for public hearings.
As part of its initial bid, BCE had already agreed to sell some of Astral's radio stations so that the combined company would not exceed the maximum number of stations a single company is allowed to own in any geographical market.
(Reporting by Randall Palmer, Louise Egan and David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Alastair Sharp in Toronto; Editing by Frank McGurty; and Peter Galloway)
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