Million-Dollar Comma May Aid Canadian Company

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A contract dispute in Canada centers on what's being called a million-dollar comma. Canada's telecommunications regulator has decided that a misplaced comma in a contract concerning telephone poles will allow a company to save an estimated $2 million (Canadian).

The current exchange rate is around 88 cents (U.S.) on the Canadian dollar.

The contract between cable company Rogers Communications and telephone company Bell Aliant allowed Rogers to use Bell Aliant's telephone poles. Bell Aliant sought to get out of the deal.

Canada's telecommunications regulator said the case hinged on the placement of the second comma in this clause:

"This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party."

Rogers had insisted the contract was good for at least five years; Aliant said the comma denotes that the deal can be terminated at five years — or before, as long as one year's notice is given.

The ruling commission said that the comma should have been omitted if the contract was meant to last five years in its shortest term.

The case is now being appealed; Rogers claims that in its French version, the contract has a different statement clarifying the point.

Robert Siegel talks with Richard Janda, a law professor at McGill University in Montreal about the case.



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