The telecommunications times, they are a-changing

CRTC needs to be relevant in 2011

In recent years, the relevance of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in the 21st century has come into question.

With the Internet and mobile phones so closely linked as two of the symbols of a globalized world, one wonders if the CRTC should even exist in Canada in such a high-tech communication age, when information is right at a person’s fingertips.

There are many examples that show how the CRTC is out of touch with the demands of today’s technology.

The most illuminating has to be the recent Internet usage billing fiasco that occurred in late January.

The CRTC ruled that telecommunication companies, especially large ones like Rogers and Bell, should be able to charge Internet usage fees via a meter-style method of billing, instead of a monthly flat fee.

For example, playing online video games on Playstation 3 or streaming a movie from Netflix would mean using more bandwidth, and a cable company like Rogers or Bell would charge accordingly.

This caused such an uproar that over 200,000 Canadians signed a petition against CRTC Chairman Konrad von Finckenstein’s ruling in favour of meter Internet billing.

Due to the backlash, Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement said that the federal government would review the ruling and halt it for the time being.

More importantly, Internet billing that would charge by usage shows the CRTC’s vulnerabilities; the organization seems only to be able to cater to either corporate or special interest.

Not only has the CRTC tried to promote an anti-competitive, stale and outdated policy by siding with corporate Canada, but in recent years it has tried to cater to special interest groups like the arts in trying to protect Canadian content in the Internet age.

A case in point occurred two years ago when they held hearings about Canadian content on Internet and mobile phones.

The CRTC heard a wide range or proposals from various groups, including the recording, acting and music industries.

Some proposals included the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists who argued that Canadian content websites should be prioritized ahead of non-Canadian content websites.

They also encouraged the CRTC to fund Canadian new media. 

While the CRTC did not rule in favour of the proposal to regulate the Internet for Canadian content, the simple fact that the organization had these hearings to entertain the thought of regulating Canadian content ahead of international content on the Internet makes them lose all credibility to the average Canadian.

They have lost the trust of rank and file citizens in order to appease corporate and special interest groups like the arts.

While many would love to see the CRTC gutted, it can still play a useful role.

In this day and age where the Internet is a symbol of the global village, perhaps the mandate of the CRTC needs to be modified to be user modified.

The organization should stand up for consumers by standing up to the telecommunication companies who already charge some of the highest cellular phone service rates in the world.

It should make sure that they do not allow them to start billing Internet usage on a meter basis.

Perhaps this would take the CRTC off its deathbed.

Adam Johnston is a economics and rhetoric and communications student at the University of Winnipeg. He focuses on environmental economic, technology and poverty issues on his blog at

Published in Volume 65, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 17, 2011)

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