Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

"CRTC may also stand for Cathode Ray Tube Controller."



The CRTC was originally known as the Canadian Radio-Television Commission. In 1976, jurisdiction over telecommunications services, most of which were then delivered by monopoly common carriers (e.g., telephone companies), was transferred to it from the Canadian Transport Commission although the abbreviation CRTC remained the same. On the telecom side, the CRTC originally regulated only privately held common carriers, such as B.C. Tel (now part of Telus), in which a U.S. company had a substantial stake; Bell Canada, which served Ontario, most of Quebec, and part of the Northwest Territories; and operations in Newfoundland, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and northern B.C. Other telephone companies, many of which were publicly owned, were regulated by provincial authorities until court rulings during the 1990s affirmed federal jurisdiction over the sector, which also included some fifty small independent incumbents, most of them in Ontario and Quebec.


The CRTC regulates all Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications activities and enforces rules it creates to carry out the policies assigned to it; the best-known of these is probably the Canadian content rules. The CRTC reports to the Parliament of Canada through the Minister of Canadian Heritage, which is responsible for the Broadcasting Act, and has an informal relationship with Industry Canada, which is responsible for the Telecommunications Act. Provisions in these two acts, along with less-formal instructions issued by the federal cabinet known as orders-in-council, represent the bulk of the CRTC's jurisdiction.

In many cases, such as the cabinet-directed prohibition on foreign ownership for broadcasters [ [ Direction to the CRTC (Ineligibility of Non-Canadians)] ] and the legislated principle of the predominance of Canadian content, [ [ Broadcasting Act at 3.(1)(f)] ] these acts and orders often leave the CRTC less room to change policy than critics sometimes suggest, and the result is that the commission is often the lightning rod for policy criticism that could arguably be better directed at the government itself.

Complaints against broadcasters, such as concerns around offensive programming, are dealt with by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, an independent broadcast industry association, rather than by the CRTC, although CBSC decisions can be appealed to the CRTC if necessary. However, the CRTC is also sometimes erroneously criticized for CBSC decisions — for example, the CRTC was erroneously criticized for the CBSC's decisions pertaining to the airing of Howard Stern's terrestrial radio show in Canada in the late 1990s.

The commission is not fully equivalent to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which has additional powers over technical matters, in broadcasting and other aspects of communications, in that country. In Canada, the Department of Industry is responsible for allocating frequencies and call signs, managing the broadcast spectrum, and regulating other technical issues such as interference with electronics equipment.

Regulation of broadcast distributors

The CRTC has in the past regulated the prices cable television broadcast distributors are allowed to charge. In most major markets, however, prices are no longer regulated due to increased competition for broadcast distribution from satellite television.

The CRTC also regulates which channels broadcast distributors must or may offer. Per the Broadcasting Act [ [ Department of Justice, Laws of Canada] (at §3.(1)(t)(i))] the commission also gives priority to Canadian signals—many non-Canadian channels which compete with Canadian channels are thus not approved for distribution in Canada. The CRTC argues that allowing free trade in television stations would overwhelm the smaller Canadian market, preventing it from upholding its responsibility to foster a national conversation. Some people, however, consider this tantamount to censorship.

The CRTC's simultaneous substitution rules require that when a Canadian network licences a television show from a US network and shows it in the same time slot, upon request by the Canadian broadcaster, broadcast distributors must replace the show on the US channel with the broadcast of the Canadian channel, along with any overlays and commercials. If "Seinfeld" is on Citytv and on NBC, for instance, the cable, satellite, or other broadcast distributor must send the Citytv feed on NBC's channel, even where the NBC version is somehow different, particularly commercials. (These rules are not intended to apply in case of differing "episodes" of the same series; this difference may not always be communicated to distributors, although this is rather rare.)

The goal of this policy is to create a market in which Canadian networks can realize revenue through advertising sales in spite of their inability to match the rates that the much larger American networks can afford to pay for syndicated programming. This policy is also why Canadian viewers do not see American advertisements during the Super Bowl, even when tuning into one of the many American networks carried on Canadian televisions.

Regulation of the internet

In a major May 1999 decision on "New Media", the CRTC held that under the Broadcasting Act the CRTC had jurisdiction certain content communicated over the internet including audio and video, but excluding content that is primarily alphanumeric such as emails and most webpages. It also issued an exemption order committing to a policy of non-interference. [ [] ]

Regulation of telephone service

The commission currently has some jurisdiction over the provision of local landline telephone service in Canada. This is largely limited to the major incumbent carriers, such as Bell Canada and Telus, for traditional landline service (but not Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)). It has begun the gradual deregulation of such services where, in the commission's opinion, a sufficient level of competition exists. [ [] ]

The CRTC is sometimes blamed for the current state of the mobile phone industry in Canada, in which there are only three national mobile network operators – Bell Mobility, Telus Mobility, and Rogers Wireless – as well as a handful of MVNOs operating on these networks. In fact, the commission has very little to do with the regulation of mobile phone service, outside of "undue preference" issues (e.g., a carrier offering a superior rate or service to some subscribers and not others without a good reason). It does not regulate service rates, service quality, or other business practices, and commission approval is not necessary for wireless provider sales or mergers as in the broadcasting industry. [ [] ] Moreover, it does not deal with the availability of spectrum for mobile phone service, which is part of the Industry Canada mandate, nor the maintenance of competition, which is largely the responsibility of The Competition Bureau.

Transfers of ownership/foreign ownership

Any transfer of more than 30% of the ownership of a broadcasting licence (including cable/satellite distribution licences) requires advance approval of the commission. One condition normally taken into account in such a decision is the level of foreign ownership; federal regulations require that Canadian citizens ultimately own a majority of a broadcast licensee. Usually this takes the form of a public process, where interested parties can express their concerns and sometimes including a public hearing, followed by a commission decision.

While landline and mobile telephone providers must also be majority-owned by Canadians under the federal Telecommunications Act, the CRTC is not responsible for enforcement of this provision. In fact, the commission does not require licences at all for telephone companies, and CRTC approval is therefore not generally required for the sale of a telephone company, unless said company also owns a broadcast licence.

Controversial decisions

Since 1987, the CRTC has been involved in several controversial decisions:

* CHOI: The CRTC announced it would not renew the licence of the popular CHOI radio station in Quebec, after having previously sanctioned the station for failing to uphold its promise of performance and then, during the years following, receiving about 50 complaints about offensive behaviour by radio jockeys which similarly contravened CRTC rules on broadcast hate speech. Many thousands of the station's fans marched in the streets and on Parliament Hill against the decision, and the parent company of CHOI, Genex Corp., appealed the CRTC decision unsuccessfully to the Federal Court of Canada. The station was later "re-licensed" following its sale to RNC Media.

* CBC Newsworld: The CRTC licensed CBC in November 30, 1987 to provide a national all-news television network. Its competitor applicant, Alberta-based Allarcom, appealed this decision to the Canadian House of Commons. It was overturned and there were questions of whether federal politicians should meddle in CRTC decisions. Because of this the network launch was delayed from September 1, 1988 to July 31, 1989.

* RAI International: This Italian channel was denied permission to broadcast in Canada on the grounds that it would compete with Telelatino, a Canadian-run channel which already produces shows in Italian. Many Italian-Canadians who either preferred RAI or could not receive Telelatino were, however, using satellite viewing cards obtained via the US in order to watch RAI, even though these cards were either grey market or black market, according to different analyses (see below). Following a subsequent review of the CRTC's policy on third-language foreign service, the service was approved in early 2005, but other foreign channels - for instance, those broadcasting in Spanish and therefore also competing with Telelatino's Spanish-/Italian-language broadcasts - remain affected by the policy, which seeks to promote the Canadian production of content.

* Al Jazeera: Was approved by the CRTC in 2004 as an optional cable and satellite offering, but on the condition that any carrier distributing it must edit out any instances of illegal hate speech. Cable companies declared that these restrictions would make it too expensive to carry Al Jazeera. Although no cable company released data as to what such a monitoring service would cost, the end-result was that no cable company elected to carry the station, either, leaving many Arabic-speaking Canadians using free-to-air satellite dishes to watch the station. The Canadian Jewish Congress has expressed its opinion over possible anti-Semitic incitement on this station and that the restrictions on Al Jazeera are appropriate, while the Canadian B'nai Brith is opposed to any approval of Al Jazeera in Canada. The CRTC ruling applied to Al Jazeera and not to its English-speaking sister network Al Jazeera English, which was launched two years after the ruling.

* Fox News: Until 2004, the CRTC's apparent reluctance to grant a digital licence to Fox News under the same policy which made it difficult for RAI to enter the country - same-genre competition from foreign services - had angered many conservative Canadians, who believed the network was deliberately being kept out due to its perceived conservative bias, particularly given the long-standing availability of services such as CNN and BBC World in Canada. On November 18, 2004, however, the CRTC approved an application by cable companies to offer Fox News on the digital cable tier. Fox commenced broadcasting in Canada shortly thereafter.

* Satellite radio: In June 2005, the CRTC outraged some Canadian cultural nationalists (such as the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting) and labour unions by licencing two companies, Canadian Satellite Radio and Sirius Canada to offer satellite radio services in Canada. The two companies are in partnership with American firms XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio respectively, and in accordance with the CRTC decision will only need to offer ten percent Canadian content. The CRTC contends that this low level of Canadian content, particularly when compared to the 35 percent rule on local radio stations, was necessary because unlicenced U.S. receivers were already flooding into the country, so that enforcing a ban on these receivers would be nearly impossible (see below). This explanation did not satisfy cultural nationalists, who demanded that the federal cabinet overturn the decision and mandate a minimum of 35 percent Canadian content. Supporters of the decision argue that satellite radio can only be feasibly set up as a continental system, and trying to impose 35 percent Canadian content across North America is quite unrealistic. They also argue that satellite radio will boost Canadian culture by giving vital exposure to independent artists, instead of just concentrating on the country's stars, and point to the CRTC's successful extraction of promises to program 10 percent Canadian content on satellite services already operational in the United States as important concessions. [] On the other hand some consumers and financial analysts believe that any Canadian content conditions are unnecessarily strict and might hamper the ability of Canadians to legally listen to many of the services currently provided by both providers.

Despite popular perception that the CRTC banned Sirius Canada from broadcasting Howard Stern's program, this is not the case. Sirius Canada in fact initially "chose" not to air Stern based on the "possibility" of a future issue with the CRTC, although the company reversed its decision and began offering Howard Stern in 2006.

Reception of non-Canadian services

While an exact number has not been determined, thousands of Canadians have purchased and used what they contend to be grey market radio and television services, licensed in the United States but not in Canada. Users of these unlicensed services contend that they are not directly breaking any laws by simply using the equipment. The equipment is usually purchased from an American supplier (although some merchants have attempted to set up shop in Canada) and the services are billed to an American postal address. The advent of online billing and the easy availability of credit card services has made it relatively easy for almost anyone to maintain an account in good standing, regardless of where they actually live.

Sec. 9(1)(c) of the Radiocommunication Act creates a prohibition against all decoding of encrypted programming signals, followed by an exception where authorization is received from the person holding the lawful right in Canada to transmit and authorize decoding of the signal. This means receiving the encrypted programming of DishNetwork or DirecTV, even with a grey market subscription, may be construed as unlawful (this remains an unresolved Constitutional issue).

Notwithstanding, possession of DishNetwork or DirecTV equipment is not unlawful as provided by The Radiocommuncation Act Section 4(1)(b), which states:

"No person shall, except under and in accordance with a radio authorization, install, operate or possess radio apparatus, other than (b)a radio apparatus that is capable only of the reception of broadcasting and that is not a distribution undertaking. (radio apparatus" means a device or combination of devices intended for, or capable of being used for, radiocommunication)."

Satellite radio poses a more complicated problem for the CRTC. While an unlicensed satellite dish can often be identified easily, satellite radio receivers are much more compact and can rarely be easily identified, at least not without flagrantly violating provisions against unreasonable search and seizure in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Some observers argued that this influenced the CRTC's June 2005 decision to ease Canadian content restrictions on satellite radio (see above).


The CRTC is run by up to 13 full-time (including the chairman, the vice-chairman of broadcasting, and the vice-chairman of telecommunications) and six part-time commissioners appointed by the Cabinet for renewable terms of up to five years. Only full-time commissioners can participate in the decision-making process for telecommunications and all commissioners are involved in broadcasting decisions. The current chairman is Konrad von Finckenstein, former head of Canada's Competition Bureau.

See also

* Category 1 specialty channel
* Category 2 specialty channel
* Ontario Telephone Service Commission
* Régie des télécommunications du Québec
* Ontario Telecommunications Association
* Canadian Independent Telephone Association
* Friends of Canadian Broadcasting


External links

* [ Campaign for Democratic Media]
* [ Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission]
* [ CBC Digital Archives - Ruling the Airwaves: The CRTC and Canadian Content]

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