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The CRTC made a priority list – We’re checking it twice

The CRTC is making attempts to emphasize affordability, access and a focus on citizen issues with a revised priorities document that was released late last week. By shifting towards an outlook that keeps the best interests of Canadians first and foremost, rather than heeding to corporate industry-defined mandates, the CRTC is recognizing that we should have a say in the future of our communications. This reaction by the CRTC is the result of numerous actions by Canadians nationwide in staying engaged, informed and vocal about these issues. We'll have to ensure that the CRTC isn't trying to simply adopt our language to placate us without following through on these promises – it's up to us to make sure they walk the talk. Let's start this push now with and let's tell the CRTC to stop corporate interests from diluting Canadian communications. Article from The Canadian communications world is focused this week on the proposed merger between Bell and Astral Media as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission holds its much-anticipated hearing on the issue in Montreal. While the merger takes centre stage, the Commission may have upstaged the process last Thursday by releasing a detailed priorities document that covers the next three years. My weekly technology law column notes that with Jean-Pierre Blais installed as the new CRTC chair and the Conservatives emboldened by majority government, the Commission's priorities send a message of change in Canadian communications policy. The days of emphasizing Canadian content rules or legislative overhauls are over, replaced by a consumer-oriented focus on affordable access to both content and connectivity services.

The CRTC priorities document identifies a single overarching objective: "ensuring that Canadians have access to a world-class communication system." Given the myriad of policy objectives contained in both the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act, the singular focus on consumer access is a subtle but important change from the approach of the previous chair, Konrad von Finckenstein.

In a series of speeches early in von Finckenstein's mandate, the then-Chair focused on two objectives for the Broadcasting Act - Canadian content and access to the system - along with a policy priority of reliance on market forces for the telecom sector. In the years that followed, the Commission confronted massive change in both broadcast and telecom as the Internet radically reshaped the industry and led the calls for legislative reform and a coherent digital strategy.

The new CRTC seems ready to de-emphasize the need for a single Communications Act by simply treating both aspects of its mandate under the single access objective. Three pillars - create, connect, and protect - support that objective. The create pillar is primarily focused on broadcast issues, the connect pillar on telecom concerns, and the protect pillar on the emerging consumer enforcement mandate that includes do-not-call legislation, anti-spam rules, and stolen wireless devices.

The emphasis on a consumer perspective is also an obvious new trend. Von Finckenstein was certainly concerned with consumer issues, focusing early in his mandate on the creation of a telecom consumer agency that became the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services. However, he also supported new fees to support broadcasters and was careful to emphasize balance, stating that "we will aim to strike the right balance between the needs of the industry and the expectations of consumers."

The new CRTC has moved the consumer perspective to the forefront of its policy making and priorities. Earlier this summer, it announced that it was terminating the Local Programming Improvement Fund, which had cost consumers over $300 million. Then late last month it announced that it was establishing a chief consumer officer post with responsibilities of ensuring that the public interest was at the heart of its policy making. Read more »


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