The CRTC launched the second phase of its Talk TV consultation with a series of questions that place the big regulatory issues squarely on the table. After asking some basic data questions, the consultation addresses a series of issues with scenarios that are framed in a lopsided manner. The consultation addresses hot button issues such as online video, pick-and-pay channels, and simultaneous substitution, but the options presented to respondents are limited and skewed toward Internet regulation for online video or supporting the status quo for conventional broadcast. For example, access to more U.S. programming is presented as a choice between increased fees, lost Canadian jobs, or larger television packages with Canadian channels. The online video discussion is premised on new CRTC regulations that with a series of increased fee options presented.
If this consultation is a signal of where the CRTC is headed, not only is the notion of true pick-and-pay channels dead and simultaneous substitution alive, but the Commission may be willing to toss out net neutrality in a race to regulate online video services. The issues raised in the consultation:
- Basic service: There are four scenarios presented, three of which support the ongoing need for mandatory basic services and one that envisions a very basic service. None of the scenarios raise the possibility of eliminating basic service altogether in favour of a full pick-and-pay model. Respondents are asked whether they support a broader basic service or one that is more limited.
- Local news: Two people in one scenario enjoy local news and a single person relies on Internet services. Respondents are asked which they think local news requirements should remain in place.
- Pick-and-Pay: There are three scenarios: one pick-and-pay and the other two maintaining packages (one the current system and the other involving choice on packages). Respondents are asked which they prefer.
- Sports: This is the first issue that is presented with two people in two scenarios – important sports programming for free to all or some on fee-based networks. Respondents are asked which they prefer.
- U.S. and international programming: Three scenarios on access to U.S. and international programming with two suggesting that Canadians get a good deal right now. Respondents are asked if they want direct access to U.S. and international channels if that means paying more, results in lost Canadian jobs, or comes packaged with Canadian channels.
- Signal Substitution: There are no scenarios in this section. Instead, after providing some historical context, respondents are provided with three choices: maintaining signal substitutions, blackouts, or paying extra fees to compensate for lost revenue. No other choices are offered.
- Online Programming: This section features two yes or no questions: (1) should online services be required to pay to create Canadian programming and (2) should they provide closed-captioning and adhere to programming standards. Remarkably, the follow-up questions all involve further payments with respondents asked if they would pay an extra 50 cents per month for Canadian-made programming, a few cents for closed captioning, and $5 per month for increased usage costs of regulated services.
While virtually the entire questionnaire is lopsided (the framing of U.S. programming as resulting in lost Canadian jobs, the pick-and-pay discussion, and the limited choice for signal substitution is striking), the online programming discussion is particularly problematic since it raises the prospect of regulating online video services, increasing the cost of the services through contributions programs, and institutionalizing net neutrality violations by permitting regulated services that do not count against a user’s data cap. The inclusion of the net neutrality violation is shocking since a variation on that scenario is currently the subject of a complaint before the Commission that is unresolved. The consultation is open until March 14, 2014. Concerned Canadians should take 15 minutes to complete the survey and tell the CRTC what they think.