In defence of the CRTC: Rabble

The media has traditionally been critical of the CRTC,
columnist Steve Anderson writes
, but two recent rulings in favour of the
public interest are a step in the right direction.

Anderson starts by pointing to the CRTC’s tendency to make decisions with a “conflicted and weak-willed approach.” His examples: the 2009 net neutrality ruling that while it was a “huge step forward, puts the onus on internet openness enforcement on consumers”; and the 2007 Diversity of Voices hearing, where “they rebuffed calls to weak media ownership rules and instead strengthened them to prevent further cross ownership, but then deliberately avoided affecting the high concentration of ownership already enjoyed by big media corporations in Canada.”

Anderson writes:

“If the CRTC’s weak nod to the public interest in the above decisions doesn’t inspire confidence in the institution, two very recent rulings should. On June 30 the CRTC extended its Traffic Management (Net Neutrality) rules to mobile wireless data services. This ruling was made in response to requests by through its partner The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) — two public interest organizations. This is a huge win. As Canadians increasingly connect to the internet using mobile devices, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of this ruling for ensuring we have access to the open internet regardless of the devise we are using to connect.

“Over the last couple years there has been a positive trajectory towards internet openness with many milestones, but this is a big one. There is more work to be done to ensure enforcement, but the CRTC has shown a willingness to listen to the public when we speak with a united voice. You can bet this latest decision and initial traffic management ruling is not what the big telecom carriers were pushing for.”

Anderson continues by discussing Quebecor’s recent application to the CRTC to give their new Fox-style news program  a coveted Catergy 1 license mandatory, which would force cable operators to carry the channel, which he writes would “amount to a subsidy of millions, maybe even tens of millions, of dollars.” The company, he says, applied for the licence  “Rather than accepting the need to compete on a level playing field like Al Jazeera English and other broadcasters do.”

He adds:

“As blogger Jesse Betteridge noted, for the CRTC to give into Quebecor it would have had to go back on its own principles and precedents, including a ruling denying category 1 carriage for a proposed channel focused on diversity and multiculturalism called Canada One TV. Despite the involvement of a key Conservative operative, and the political pressure that inevitably comes with that, it appears the CRTC is listening to the public interest community. In July, the CRTC sent a letter to Quebecor denying them Category 1 carriage until at least October 2011. Quebecor is not likely to give up, but for the time being this decision prevents them from getting special treatment and the subsidy.”

Anderson suggests that, if enough public pressure is applied, the public can transform the CRTC into “the public institution it’s supposed to be.”