An overview of the CRTC’s Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review

On January 30, the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review panel released its final report on Canada’s Communications Future: Time to Act. The panel was appointed in June 2018 to review the country’s communication legislative framework, including the Telecommunications Act, Radiocommunication Act, and the  Broadcasting Act. The panel’s 97 recommendations cover a wide range of subjects, including a broad expansion of the regulatory and enforcement powers of both the CRTC and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. 

Major recommendations from the panel include: 

  • Changing the name of the Canadian Radio‑television and Telecommunications Commission to the Canadian Communications Commission, as well as re-naming the Telecommunications Act as “the Electronic Communications Act”; 

  • Expanding the policy objectives of the Telecommunications and Broadcasting Acts to better promote both privacy and universal access to high-speed broadband; 

  • Provide the CRTC with an expanded role to monitor and audit market participants; 

  • Extend the CRTC’s authority over rights-of-way access on passive infrastructure, and support structures considered integral for network builds;

  • Reduce the number of commissioners in the CRTC, and implement a transparent, merit-based selection process;

  • Investigate the applicability of the Lobbying Act to include a greater number of officials and staff at CRTC and Innovation, Science and Economic Development;

  • Create a Public Interest Committee to allow a diverse group of stakeholders to participate in the CRTC’s proceedings.

Janet Yale Chair of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review panel holds a copy of the report during a news conference in Ottawa on Jan. 29, 2020

It should be noted that the panel’s recommendations are just that — recommendations. It is still up to the federal government to address and implement them. In this regard, Cybera would like to see the government follow-through on many of the panel’s recommendations, which were reflected in Cybera’s own submission to this proceeding. These include:

  • Update the policy’s objectives to enshrine the right to universal and affordable access within legislation;

  • Enshrine the CRTC’s Universal Service Objective (the minimum connection speed required for Canadians to meaningfully participate in the internet economy) within the Telecommunications Act;

  • Give the CRTC increased powers for proactive monitoring and auditing; 

  • Give the CRTC greater control over spectrum policy;

  • Create better mechanisms for promoting participation of consumers and public interest organizations in CRTC proceedings;

  • Clarify the relationship between the CRTC and the Competition Bureau;

  • Strengthen safeguards against conflicts of interest and regulatory capture (i.e. when industry leaders are given positions of power in regulatory bodies);

  • Improve access to information for all stakeholders.

However, from Cybera’s perspective, the panel’s recommendations missed an opportunity to enshrine concrete and measurable commitments to First Nations’ connectivity within a communications legislation, instead recommending “further study.” Broadband access in First Nations communities is  a pressing matter that requires a much more proactive approach that this, and we hope the government goes further in this regard than what is recommended by the panel. 

The panel also recommends that regional CRTC Commissioners be removed and replaced with commissioners that are  localized in the Ottawa region. We see this as problematic, as many people already feel far too removed from the CRTC’s decision-making process. We hope to see this recommendation rejected by the federal government. 

Cybera looks forward to the federal government’s response to the panel’s report, and hopes to provide further comment on those recommendations to ensure open, equitable, and universal access to the internet in Canada.