Discover more from Claggett's take
CRTC on life support and its vitals are failing
Canada's broadcasting and telecommunications regulator faces certain death
Canadian broadcasters can now say fuck on the radio or super-juice their transmitters to half-a-million watts and not worry about any slap-down from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. As of last month, the CRTC’s decided to ignore all complaints about what happens with radio for at least two years. It was only a small part of the mandate.
Yes, the broadcast industry does kind-of regulate itself for good taste and honesty through bodies such as the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (which would actually deal with bad language), but the longarm of the federal law seems too old and fragile to support its own weight. First to go - caring about radio. It seems even Canada’s top radio managers were caught by surprise when the CRTC announced it would defer new applications or complaints so it could “focus on implementing its regulatory plan to modernize the broadcasting system.”
So much for any business plans. Still, don’t expect tears. Broadcasters have already tested their abilities to switch formats and even rebroadcast news programs on FM without CRTC approval. But this latest move sends two messages. One - radio is dying and we don’t care. Two - do whatever you want.
To be sure, this radio decision is shortsighted and ill-timed unless the regulatory body is resigned to going into hospice. Broadcasting defines its worth in news and information programming. And while media companies (especially telecoms like Bell and Rogers) are struggling with integration and the relationship between content and delivery modes, Canadians are expressing a lack of confidence in Ottawa’s abilities to regulate the changing landscape. Forget leadership!
So what is the CRTC’s purpose?
What we do
At the CRTC, we engage in a wide range of activities. We supervise and regulate over 2,000 broadcasters, including TV services, AM and FM radio stations, and the companies that bring these services to you. We also regulate telecommunications carriers, including major telephone companies.
Our activities include:
Licensing. We issue, renew and amend broadcasting licences. We also issue licences for international telecommunications services whose networks allow telephone users to make and receive calls outside of Canada.
Promoting compliance with regulations. We promote compliance with the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules, including the National Do Not Call List, and Canada’s anti-spam legislation .
Making ownership decisions. We make decisions on mergers, acquisitions and changes of ownership in the broadcasting sector.
Approving tariffs. We approve tariffs and certain agreements for the telecommunications sector.
Encouraging competition. We encourage competition in telecommunications markets to ensure that Canadians have a choice of innovative and affordable services.
Providing information. We respond to requests for information and concerns about broadcasting and telecommunications issues.
We listen and collaborate
To fulfill our mandate, we must understand the needs and interests of Canadians who make use of broadcasting and telecommunications services.
As a result, we regularly hold public hearings, round-table discussions, informal forums, and online discussion forums designed to gather Canadians' views about broadcasting and telecommunications services—information that we can then act on to serve the public interest.
We also attend regular meetings with our international counterparts in 25 countries to discuss new technologies, new market arrangements and emerging trends. Our experience with both broadcasting and telecommunications puts us in the unique position of being able to both learn from and help other regulators in the international community.
The fact is the CRTC’s mandate is outdated. Even the word telecommunications is outdated. Complicating this is the fact the CRTC’s scope is ill-defined and disproportionately centered on dealing with telecom business decisions such as ownership models and spectrum buys.
Grandpa has lost his faculties.
There is no way the regulator can confidently handle the changing influence of digital media, generative AI and international influences on technology. The CRTC has proven itself out-of-touch with Canadian interests by developing a reputation as a rubber stamper of deals such as last year’s Rogers takeover of Shaw.
Grandpa also doesn’t have our confidence.
Remember that day last year when Canadian’s couldn’t use their Interac cards or dial 911? This week’s decision to bring in an outside firm to review Rogers’ 2022 outage and its impact may be the CRTC’s agreement to its own DNR order. The problem is it’s a body that’s failing in too many ways and has little hope of recovering.
That illness has gone on for far too long with Canadians realizing this country has some of the highest cellphone and data rates in the developed world. This past February might have been the last time we heard the CRTC making a promise to average Canadians. Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne told us:
Following consultations with Canadians, organizations and businesses, we carefully considered all feedback received to prepare the renewed approach. The final policy direction will therefore put the following objectives at the top of the CRTC's decision process:
enhance wholesale Internet access and competition
increase mobile wireless competition
improve the reliability and resilience of services
improve consumer rights
speed up new infrastructure for universal access
proactively improve the accessibility of telecom services for Canadians with disabilities
build better regulations to better support Canadian consumers
Too little, too late. The scope is too broad and the track record doesn’t exist.
It’s for these reasons that one can only conclude the CRTC is not purpose-set to live a healthy existence or reinvent itself. Expect to hear a growing call for its demise. There will be a rethink for regulation and enforcement but don’t expect it to look anything like the CRTC.
A new body(s). New thinking. It’s more than time.
Bruce Claggett is a 35 year veteran in the news media, having worked as a reporter, newscaster, producer/editor, senior editor, news director, journalism instructor and media consultant. He holds a BA (political science/geography) from UBC, B.Ed. (secondary education) from UBC and a Dipl. T. (broadcast journalism) from BCIT. He continues to work as a guest host on 980/CKNW, media trainer and communications advisor.