Last week, the CRTC issued the first two of what are likely to be at least a dozen decisions involving the Online Streaming Act. Those decisions are already sparking controversy, but as the Commission focuses on Bill C-11 and perhaps soon Bill C-18, there is mounting concern that its other responsibilities are falling by the wayside that its independence from the government is starting to show cracks. Peter Menzies is a former Vice-Chair of the CRTC and frequently commentator on broadcast, telecom and Internet regulatory issues. He joins the Law Bytes podcast to talk about the current state of the Commission, which has never seemed more important but also seemed more out of touch and incapable of meeting its duties.
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Members Only: My Submissions to the CRTC’s Bill C-11 Consultations on Regulatory Thresholds and DMEO Transition
The CRTC’s deadline for the first two Bill C-11 consultations passed yesterday after the Commission rejected extension requests from a wide range of groups. Given the limited time – there was just a single workday from when the CRTC issued its rejection until the deadline – I submitted brief comments (2023-139, 2023-140) focusing on two concerns. First, the very short timeline for submissions did not allow for completion of research into the questions posed by the CRTC, including the appropriate threshold for regulation of Internet streaming services. I argued that the approach may have excluded many interested stakeholders from fully participating in the consultation. Second, I took issue with the CRTC’s framing of the consultation, which it said was “industry focused”, a signal that the consumer related issues raised by regulatory thresholds (including consumer choice and service costs) were viewed as irrelevant by the Commission.
That concern was amplified yesterday as the Canadian Media Fund, which receives public funding, literally gave a trophy to Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez for passing Bill C-11 and CRTC Chair Vicky Eatrides delivered remarks at the Banff World Media Festival in which consumers and the broader public were nowhere to be found. Speaking of implementing Bill C-11, Eatrides stated:
CRTC Chair Vicky Eatrides Faces Her First Big Test: Is the Commission Serious About Public Participation on Bill C-11?
Earlier this month, the CRTC issued the first three of what may become at least nine public consultations on Bill C-11. As I lamented in a post on the consultations, “with short timelines, no resources or support mechanisms for new groups and entities interested in participating, and the absence of the policy direction, this is not a serious attempt to fully engage in Canadians.” A wide range of Canadian cultural, consumer, and independent groups have now escalated the issue by formally asking the CRTC to extend its submission period to late July rather than the current June deadlines. The request, which comes from groups that have both supported and criticized Bill C-11, should be a no-brainer given the absurdly short deadlines that severely limit the ability of many groups to effectively participate in the Bill C-11 consultation process.
Actions Speak Louder than Words: Ministers Rodriguez and Champagne Post Mandate Letter to New CRTC Chair Vicky Eatrides
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and ISED Minister François-Philippe Champagne publicly released what amounts to a mandate letter to new CRTC Chair Vicky Eatrides this morning. The letter contains many laudable goals and aspirations: a more timely, transparent, and inclusive commission, an emphasis on competition in telecom, and an affirmation of the importance of freedom of expression in broadcast. Yet what matters when it comes to the current government and communications issues is not what it says, but what it does. The letter may represent a tacit acknowledgement of the disaster that was the Ian Scott era – the ministers themselves note the waning public trust in the CRTC – but the problems go beyond its chair.
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 152: Konrad von Finckenstein on the Challenges That Lie Ahead for the CRTC
The start of a new year often means a fresh start and for the CRTC, it meant welcoming a new chair, as Vicky Eatrides officially took over as chair a few days into 2023. Eatrides comes to the Commission at a particularly busy time with wireless competition concerns top of mind for many Canadians and the government set to ask the Commission to play a pivotal role in implementing Bills C-11 and C-18.
Konrad von Finckenstein is someone who knows quite a bit about the challenges faced by new CRTC chairs, having served in the role from 2007 to 2012. He was recently appointed to the Order of Canada for his many contributions to public life and he joins me on the Law Bytes podcast to reflect on those experiences in the context of the CRTC. Our conversation reflects on what is involved in launching entirely new programs, ensuring public engagement, and developing policies that enjoy both public support and can withstand potential legal challenges.