Beginner’s guide to the CRTC

September 21, 2000
With contributions by Sharon Oosthoek

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is once again in the news with the announcement of yet another mega media merger. With BCE Inc.'s proposed acquisition of Canada's largest private sector television network CTV, critics are questioning the relevance of the CRTC as Canada dives headfirst into the new, multimedia world.

(Sympatico-Lycos is owned in part by BCE.)

The CRTC was established in 1968 by Parliament as a federal communications watchdog. It's responsible for regulating the Canadian television, radio and telecommunications industries. Decisions made by the CRTC affect our daily lives - the amount you pay for telephone service, and the Canadian content in television and radio, for example.

Its mission statement says the regulator's mandate is to "Ensure that Canadian communications contribute fairly and equitably to Canada's economic, social and cultural prosperity." These goals were to be met through a careful mix of regulation, supervision and dialogue with the public.

With the viral-like spread of the Internet, however, it was expected that the CRTC would take a greater interest in the new communications technology. But the regulator's announced on May 17th, 1999 that it would not regulate the Internet, and many analysts now believe the CRTC is not capable of fulfilling its mandate.

"We acknowledge the concerns raised by many parties on these issues," CRTC chairwoman Franoise Bertrand told The Globe and Mail. "In keeping with our approach to the Internet, however, we will not regulate offensive and illegal content."

This hands-off approach is not sitting well with analysts, who believe the CRTC is an old-world regulator in a new world environment. "It was a solution carved out in a different age," Carlton University journalism professor Chris Dornan told The Globe and Mail. "They [the CRTC] have a lot of head-scratching and thinking to do here."

BCE's move to acquire CTV, and now newspaper giant the Globe and Mail, raises the question of whether the CRTC is capable of handling the rapid rise of media convergence in Canada. The CRTC's mandate does not cover newspapers - only television, radio and telecommunications.

Jean-Pierre Blais, executive director of broadcasting for the CRTC disagrees with critics who question the regulator's effectiveness in the world of new media. He believes the CRTC's mandate is flexible and broad enough to cope with rapid technological changes and mergers. "The world is changing, and it's changing quickly. It's important for the commission to be nimble and act quickly."

Related Links
CRTC's Web site
Who are the CRTC?
BCE's Web site
CTV's Web site
The Globe and Mail: BCE-CTV deal under scrutiny - September 18, 2000
National Post: Monty will have his way with CRTC - September 18, 2000
The Globe and Mail: The Internet is Regulated enough- May 19, 1999

ISSN 1499-7894
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