CRTC Faces Charges of Bias in Online Video Consultation

Earlier this month Konrad von Finckenstein, the chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, was asked at an industry conference about the role of consumer groups in telecom regulation. He responded that consumer groups generally do not have a problem ensuring their views are heard, but that their effectiveness depended upon getting organized and developing the necessary knowledge and expertise to fully participate in regulatory proceedings.

Yet just as von Finckenstein was providing assurances to the consumer community, my weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the CRTC was erecting barriers to their participation in a consultation on online video services such as Netflix and AppleTV. In fact, the consultation (labeled a “fact-finding exercise”) has been marred by charges of CRTC bias that has led at least one consumer group to pull out altogether.

The CRTC launched the consultation in late May after a consortium of broadcasters and cultural groups including Bell Media, Astral Media, ACTRA, the Canadian Media Production Association, and SOCAN formed the Online Broadcasting Working Group to urge the Commission to delve into the policy implications of increasingly popular Internet-based video services.

The CRTC could have easily dispensed with the request by noting that it addressed the issue of new media regulation in 2009, concluding that regulatory intervention would get in the way of innovation and promising to revisit the issue again in 2014.

Rather than waiting for the next round of review, however, the CRTC launched its consultation on May 25th, posing eight questions on the impact of so-called over-the-top services and setting a deadline to respond of June 27th.

The CRTC approach raised two immediate concerns for consumer groups. First, the short deadline provided little time to research the issue and respond in a constructive manner, much less retain expert assistance. Indeed, the stakeholder best positioned to respond was the OBWG, the very industry group lobbying for a review. Second, by labeling the consultation a “fact-finding exercise”, it took it outside the full public consultation process that offers public interest groups the opportunity to seek compensation for their costs.

When Canadian consumer groups voiced these concerns to the CRTC, they were summarily dismissed. For example, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic wrote to the Commission on May 27th – two days after the consultation launch – to request an extension until the end of July (I am a member of a CIPPIC Advisory Board). The CRTC responded on June 1st, rejecting the request.

But when industry groups including the OBWG asked for extensions several days later, the CRTC quickly granted the request, giving all parties until July 5th to respond. When asked about the discrepancy, the CRTC claimed that the industry requests for shorter extensions led to the different outcome.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre raised concerns about exclusion of costs for consumer groups in a letter sent to the CRTC on June 6th. A week later, the Commission affirmed that the intervener cost rules did not apply to the fact-finding exercise since “no policy or regulatory outcomes will be determined on the basis of this exercise.”

That claim is hard to reconcile with the Commission’s reluctance to extend the submission deadline. If this is nothing more than a fact-finding exercise, there is seemingly little urgency and no need for tight timelines. On the other hand, if the exercise does ultimately lead to new policies, then the traditional rules that foster public interest participation should apply.


  1. I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone that the CRTC is biased toward the businesses rather than the consumer.

  2. James Plotkin says:

    Still though. this is pretty blatant. They don’t seem to be held to account much either. One would hope that the legislature will do something about this in the coming months as the courts tend to show a seriously high level of deference for the CRTC’s decisions.

  3. Over a decade ago I was involved in an application to the CRTC; needless to say, I soon became acutely aware of their shortsightedness and bias. Commission faces and names may change, the odd public servant may even come and go, but this “at arms-length government department” is just so completely out of touch and, frankly, just doesn’t care. They never have. And we just sit here and take it.

  4. Consistency
    It is inconsistent to claim that the failure to fund CIPPIC is biased, but that leaning on the New Media decision is an acceptable alternative. In the proceeding leading to the New Media decision, as in every other broadcasting proceeding in the CRTC’s history, noone was funded to file a submission because, despite numerous committee recommendations, the government never created the facility for such funding, which has only existed for telecom proceedings. If the failure to fund CIPPIC biases this proceeding — which, unlike past “new media” proceedings (including the last fact-finding proceeding on new media), is a joint broadcast and telecom proceeding — then it must bias the New Media decision, too.

  5. Ya, real shocker!! It’s not really a “fact-finding exercise” when those with the important consumer knowledge are kept out. It’s not really a “fact-finding exercise” when the outcome has been pre-decided. If anyone thinks otherwise they’re blind. The CRTC is run by media people who have a vested interest in keeping “new media” services out of the country.

    I REALLY don’t like describing Internet media services as “over-the-top services”, when they’ve become the norm in many places outside Canada such as in the US, most, if not all, of Europe and many other places. By describing it as “over-the-top”, the CRTC and the Canadian media industry is trying to put an evil face on what should be a no-brainer business decision. They’re fighting a battle the can’t win. Eventually, like the Shaw decision to open up bandwidth, consumer demand will force their hand. If anything should be considered over-the-top, it’s what we pay for the limited Internet and media services we have.

  6. “He responded that consumer groups generally do not have a problem ensuring their views are heard, but that their effectiveness depended upon getting organized and developing the necessary knowledge and expertise to fully participate in regulatory proceedings.”

    The CRTC’s main function and mandate is supposed to be to protect consumers in the telecom and broadcast industry. That’s why we have a regulated industry. As part of my course in broadcasting, it was essential for us to learn all the CRTC regulations, and the complaints procedures. One of my classes in my first year was exclusively dedicated to the CRTC, yet when I file a complaint as a consumer, it largely gets dismissed!

    One would figure after government unanimously came together over the UBB issue on consumers behalf, that the CRTC employee’s and decision makers got the message from government. Consumers first! The CRTC risks becoming very irrelevant if it continues to exclude the consumer voice in its proceedings. Government may choose to overrule again if any decision made in this hearing doesn’t take fully into count consumers voices. Above all this is the voice they are mandated to protect!

  7. CndCitizen says:

    @JasonK –
    “ne would figure after government unanimously came together over the UBB issue on consumers behalf, that the CRTC employee’s and decision makers got the message….”

    You forget, the alliance/conservative/reform party was a minority then….now it has a fascist majority and they don’t really care what the people say…right now as taken from some past post that the PMO said (don’t know if it was happer but it was reported here) that I don’t care what the laws state as long as the US corporations are happy.

    Too bad ignatihalf was so bad of a leader or we wouldn’t be in this mess of divided votes….I really hope McKenna or someone of his caliber shows up to the table to start leading the country for the people instead of one sided political FOX news type divisionist…look at the US…is that where we want to be after a 4 year Harper stranglehold?

    Canada has always been a beacon of hope around the world for true democracies…(No not the US Repuplic) and with some of the things going on we are quickly falling to 3rd world nations on some of the basic things in life…

    I wish we had a leader that was a leader for the people instead of the political donations.


    Funny Captcha: Caesar RonGula

  8. CndCitizen says:

    futher note just after I wrote the above, directly on point by a 1 billion dollar company.

    “How can we, as good Europeans, accept this state of affairs? The success of our European project is founded upon freedom of movement – for persons, goods, services and capital. Why should digital content be an exception? How can policymakers continue to endorse the vested interests of economic rights holders at the expense of the promises of the single market and our fundamental freedoms?”

    So how does Ericsson suggest that the divide between consumers and copyright holders may be bridged? The answer is very simple…

    “Ericsson is calling for full consumer access to legal, timely, competitively priced and wide-ranging compelling content offerings, and a free choice of when, where and how this legal digital content can be consumed. We call for an end to regulatory barriers and deliberate non-availability through windowing and territoriality”

    Captcha: Modem. Muntpro

  9. How can the CRTC even call this a “fact”-finding exercise when only one side of the table is represented? Who is fact-checking the facts?

  10. @CndCitizen
    This whole thing is a farce. You can’t regulate a user driven content market. Regulation only works when there are gatekeepers involved, and since the internet removed the gatekeepers, questions remains on whether regulation is currently needed, or can be applied. If regulation is currently needed, than the CRTC needs expanded legislation to do that, which will open up a huge can of worms, and I don’t think the Cons want that right now. Even if they did, it probably wouldn’t be in our life time before they figure it out, if regulation is at all possible.

    The only thing the CRTC can do with this ruling, is shut the door to innovative companies that want to expand here in Canada. The only thing that would impact is our economy here and jobs. Canadian consumers have ample global online video services to choose from. Geoblocking doesn’t work all that well. If the CRTC does try and regulate, I can almost guarantee the Conservatives will be jumping all over this decision since it could have a profound negative impact on the Canadian media industry which is now global, not regional.

  11. “The Internet removed the gatekeepers”?
    What is this, 1997? In other news, the bidding on Hulu is north of $2 billion.