CRTC Boss Says Regulatory Structure Needs Overhaul

by Jordan Richardson on June 14, 2011

CRTC head Konrad von Finckenstein said Monday that Canada needs a new all-encompassing telecommunications act that is in line with the requirements and entanglements of the digital world. With the federal government in the middle of an industry review that includes foreign ownership restrictions, this call for comprehensive change comes at a good time.

“The industry is going through fundamental change in technology, in business models and in corporate structures,” he said. “It has become a single industry, thoroughly converged and integrated. Yet it continues to be regulated under three separate acts which date from 20 years ago.”

Von Finckenstein noted that the best approach would be one act that encompasses all telecommunications policy.

Currently, Canada’s telecommunications industry is governed by three pieces of legislation: the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act (created in 1974), the Broadcasting Act (created in 1991) and the Telecommunications Act (created in 1993). As you can tell, this trio of legislation is somewhat outdated when one takes the Internet and other forms of communication into account.

And with changing ownership structures in Canada’s telecom giants to take into consideration, the lines between the acts blur.

The “problem” for the CRTC has largely been consumer choice, argued von Finckenstein. Because of the vast array of digital options outside of the normal channels, “the commission’s ability to regulate through control of access is very much reduced.”

According to the CRTC commissioner, the government should review the role of the regulators as well. Are there too many commissioners, for example, and should the regulators have less power? Should there be harsher penalties and greater enforcement?

Currently the CRTC has enjoyed a less-than-amicable relationship with the federal government. They’ve butted heads over usage-based billing and foreign ownership restrictions recently, with the current Harper government effectively overruling the CRTC’s decisions. This course of action does seem to beg a review of the regulatory approach at the very least, so von Finckenstein certainly does seem to be on to something in his calls for overhaul.

The CRTC is set to have hearings on vertical integration in about a week, so more conversation about the platform shift will be taking place then. With Canada’s big guns with their feet dangling in several different pools, the notion of where businesses intersect should be addressed in a meaningful legislative way if this country is to continue to move forward in this very complicated era.

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