How Cool is the CRTC

I’m about to geek out in the most Canadian Studies way possible. I know that doesn’t sound like an exciting read but if you’re a Canadian a lot of the rule changes that have happened recently that you probably like the CRTC is responsible for. One of those C’s is for Canada and one is for communications which means that they have their hand in radio, TV, internet and cell phones. Those things are basically our entertainment and our lifelines. In our country these things are often run by huge corporations that basically have a monopoly and walk all over us at every chance. The CRTC is the ‘big guy’ so to speak who fights on our behalf so I think we all owe them a big thank you. Are they perfect? No and they can move slowly too but we’re all paying less for something because of them. For American readers it’s most similar to the FCC except the FCC has more powers and part of what the CRTC does is protect us from undue cultural influence from the states. Whether you’re a CRTC nerd like me (seriously tell me so I know I’m not alone) or you just want to be better informed the agency is actually pretty cool.

What is the CRTC

The CRTC stands for Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission so you can see why it NEEDS an acronym! It’s not a department of the Canadian government but rather an arms length organization who’s 13 members are appointed by cabinet for up to 5 years. Generally in Canada political appointments are based on merit in general and that is especially true of the CRTC. The members are appointed based on merit and knowledge and once appointed they no longer answer to government that’s how an arms length organization works. Their decisions are structured similarly to the decisions of the supreme court. 

The CRTC deals with complaints from Canadians but not content which viewers find offensive, that’s a separate organization. Instead it’s things like overcharging, not having enough options and even how content is bundled. Since we are such a geographically large country but have a small population we don’t have that many companies and they tend to have something resembling a functional monopoly. They say things like we have to charge you that much just to access the network or in order to get that one extra channel you want you actually have to buy these 70 every month. Keen readers will notice that those two things are no longer true and that’s because of you guessed it the CRTC. They get a mandate to look into a certain issue and call on experts, industry and members of the public to investigate and make a binding decision.

Once they make a decision on a certain topic the government or the companies have to fall in line within a certain time frame. Most of their decisions actually make our lives better, safer or at least cheaper.

PS: If you’re wondering about any issue in the communications field (like why you can’t watch American Netflix) their website is a great place to start even if it’s not something they control.

Canadian content rules mean we have our own industry

If you have heard about the CRTC it’s probably in regards to Canadian Content laws. These aren’t my favorite thing the CRTC does but I figured we’d start out with something you might know. The idea behind Canadian content rules is that if we don’t force companies to put some Canadian things into our media our communication systems will be totally overwhelmed by the big neighbor to our south. It doesn’t necessarily mean a song has to be sung by a Canadian or a show must feature Canadian cast and be shot in Canada. It does mean we’re subjected to some truly terrible Canadian shows and so on but these laws also means we have and actual entertainment industry too which is overall a positive thing! This isn’t why I think the CRTC is so cool though.

Recent decisions

Let’s look into some of the recent decisions the CRTC has made and I think you’ll agree that they’re pretty awesome after too!

The do not call list

Have you  ever angrily yelled into the phone “I’m on the do not call list!” Well not that long ago that wasn’t an option. In response to telemarketing phone calls the CRTC looked into this issue. They always used to come at dinner right? After consulting with Canadians they created the national do not call registry where you can add your phone number and Canadian companies can’t ‘cold call’ you anymore. It might not be perfect but it’s a pretty great start. Now if you find a company violating those rules you simply report it online and they will investigate. Recently they also compelled carriers to develop ways to cut out overseas, anonymous, spoofed and generally unwanted calls. They also compelled the carriers to make the information for accessing those services easy and accessible.

Net neutrality

Remember a few years ago when everyone was up in arms about net neutrality. I’m pretty sure I could write a definition of that for pretty much the rest of my life but lets go with this one. The idea that all parts of the internet should be treated the same. They should not be blocked (within reason), slowed down or cost extra. It turns out this is something the CRTC feels strongly about too and in a recent decision they implemented that as a policy in Canada. That meant that carries and ISPs couldn’t charge more, slow down or block legal content from the internet anymore.

Are you skinny basic?

For the longest time in Canada having cable was a slippery slope. You got three channels for free, 20 for and affordable price. Most people however paid an arm and a leg for 70 channels. That’s because cable companies either didn’t offer that basic suite of channels or bundled extra channels. Functionally that meant that you had to buy three packages full of channels you won’t watch or more to get the 4 channels you actually wanted. Even in an era where cable companies were losing a lot to the internet the CRTC mandated changes. They decreed that companies must offer a basic package available for next to nothing and that you be able to buy other channels one at a time. 

Cell phone overages

There was a time that a poorly picked plan, a short international trip or most often a careless teenager could rack up a mobility bill well into the thousands of dollars. It happened to my mom and honey back in the day. Roaming charges, data overages and subscription fees were easy to incur within one bill cycle and then all of a sudden you owed your carrier several hundred or even thousands of dollars. There was no warning and the companies didn’t cut you off. So if your teenager decided to keep the line open overnight with their best friend which is immature and unnecessary for a month your bill might arrive in a manila envelope or even a box. That could end up costing thousands, same with a family trip to Mexico. Well the CRTC heard so many complaints from customers that they decided your mobile carrier must cap overages at $50 and then cut off your offending service before the bill got out of control. Parents and luddites no longer have to worry that they will end up with a bill there is no way they can pay.

Other cool stuff

The CRTC can only control so much, specifically content and companies that originate in Canada but there are other rules they’ve made that are super cool too. With out getting into all the details which are available on their website let’s take a look at decisions they’ve made that help all Canadians:

  • Limiting the volume change of TV commercials 
  • It’s now easy to keep your number if you change mobile carriers
  • Limiting the length of cell phone contracts
  • Creating and maintaining the National emergency alert system
  • Making blocking mature content on TV possible
  • Media literacy campaigns for Canadians (who still wants a house hippo?)
  • You’re entitled to 30 days to try an accessibility feature for free if you’re disabled
  • Fostering competition for internet and mobile carriers to reduce the price overall
  • Administering the broadband fund to bring high speed to rural Canada
  • They’re working hard on anti-spam legislation
  • Communications contracts have to be written in plain language
  • Carriers must unlock cell phones free of charge
  • If you’re not happy with your device or coverage you can always return your new phone for 15 days
  • Phone carriers have to provide 911 service no matter the technology they use
  • Limits and blocking must be available for 1-900 type numbers
  • Political calls must not be misleading or contain false information

Sometimes it seems like the CRTC is the common sense we need in the Canadian telecommunications market. Since companies have proven time and time again they are incapable of providing that I’m glad that somebody steps up to the plate!

Some crappy stuff

It’s not all sunshine and roses though the CRTC isn’t just there to protect the customer they are also there to make sure companies can operate and be reasonably successful. They also shape policy to make sure media does have some Canadian content. That means they do make some unpopular decisions from time to time.

Super Bowl commercials

One thing that does low key suck about being Canadian is the fact that even if we watch big events like the super bowl on an American network we can’t see the much hyped commercials in real time. This is because the CRTC has mandated that international programming must offer the opportunity to Canadian advertisers under the Canadian Content laws. Before they were all available on the internet this was a much bigger deal and an unpopular decision. However you kinda have to admit that it’s pretty much a first world problem.

It can take time

The CRTC is a government agency and that means change can take a really, really long time. If a company comes up with a new shady way to milk customers the CRTC must first receive complaints, then investigate, talk to experts, host round tables and do community outreach. After that board members then have time to think about and craft their decisions. Finally a report with recommendations has to be written and agreed upon and then the company is given a period of time to comply. Which means while ALL that is going on they can continue with their unfair practices and gouge you in the meantime. While it would be great if this whole process could move faster because it’s government it sort of is what it is.

A lot of what they do is REALLY boring

The CRTC does do some pretty cool stuff for all Canadians on the regular but most of what they do is really, really boring. Maybe it’s important and needed but its undeniably boring. Things like overseeing media mergers, approving and renewing broadcast licenses, making financial reports available to the public and approving tariffs. That stuff is incredibly mundane and makes watching paint dry seem really exciting. I’m sure it’s all important too but it is decidedly way less cool.

I think it’s pretty clear that the CRTC is really cool in the nerdiest way possible. It’s also pretty undeniable that unless you own a national communications company the CRTC makes the lives of all Canadians better and even protects us. Did you know what the CRTC did before today? Is the CRTC now your new favorite government agency? Leave it in the comments below!

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