The CRTC Meets Netflix, Google and Apple TV

Internet CRTCI like to watch television programs I like.  Unfortunately in Canada, that is not so easy.  A friend of mine and I have a running gag going on how we cannot see the television programs we want to watch.  It is that way in Canada because of the CRTC, which regulates content consumers have to choose from.  Our regular complaint is that we cannot view sports programs on our cable, which we like.

Of course we blame that on the Canadian government and their regulatory body, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC. It was set up years ago to regulate telecommunications in this country.  So through the years radio stations have had to play a certain percentage of Canadian music, ditto for television stations and ditto for many other communication devices specifically the telephone.  It has been the bane of us but on the other hand it has preserved and maintained Canadian jobs divvying out Canadian content through the years.

At one time in my world I could not understand why the CRTC was needed.  Needless to say, if there were no regulation of our telecommunication airwaves in Canada, people in rural areas and more remote northern areas would not get service.  So our government regulated that certain specific services need to be provided across the country.  This mandate may have been expanded through the years, but that’s the main reason we have regulation of our telecommunication airwaves.

So that means that we are unable to get ESPN on our cable TV but instead are forced to buy TSN, in my opinion one of the worst sports channels ever.  You can make an argument for many more television and radio channels, which are maintained through the benevolence of the CRTC.  In fact, large industries are maintained through that regulation and Canadian jobs are the result of that.

This was brought home to me quite a few years ago when one of my good friends got a job with a Telesat Canada.  At that time Telesat was one of the only providers of satellite signals in Canada.  It had morphed into the company, which it was then by huge gobs of government money to get the satellite telecommunication business going in Canada.  The reason for that was Canadian governments felt we needed to service Canadians in all regions of the country.  If we did not, foreign satellite providers would only provide service where it was profitable like in Canada’s urban areas.  People who lived outside of that area would simply be out of luck.

Long story short, Telesat Canada provided a very good job to my friend and he went to work making sure there were good satellite linkups all across the country.  At one time he was always troubleshooting the different satellite signals that Canada’s TV stations bought from.  He was also responsible for telephone satellite service to Canada’s remote North.  The bottom line was, CRTC regulation made sure we had a Canadian industry with Canadian content, which supported Canadian jobs.  Without it, there would be none of that.

So that is why I cannot watch nonstop American basketball.  I am forced to buy TSN and watch nonstop hockey.  Somebody within the Canadian government and the CRTC thinks that is a good thing.

The only problem is sometimes the ground shifts underneath you.  That is exactly where the CRTC is finding itself right now as the growth of the Internet has sponsored so-called over-the-top services such as Netflix, Google TV and Apple TV.  This is where consumers can stream “anything they want” over the Internet onto their television screens.  The CRTC cannot do anything about that, unlike the days when everybody had an antenna or cable subscription.  The CRTC now considers that a huge problem.

The chairman of the CRTC, Konrad von Finckenstein said this about the issue in a recent Globe and Mail article. “It’s something that’s moving very fast and I don’t want to deal with it when it’s too late,” von Finckenstein said. “Maybe it’s not even [the CRTC’s to deal with]. Maybe it is something that has to be done by legislation or whatever. But I want to understand it. I want to [find out] what the hell is going on here. … And then decide does anything need to be done? Maybe not, maybe yes, and by who.”

Does it sound like a guy who may have missed the bus?  I think so.  Clearly, the Internet has changed the game and for the CRTC, this is a problem.  However, is it a problem for most Canadians?  Does the same CRTC that gave remote northern Canada internet access now have a problem because those empowered consumers are choosing to pass them by?  Ditto for almost everything else that we communicate with here in Canada.  Yes, it is a long and winding road. In the balance lies the CRTC’s relevance.  Who knows what new technology will come around the corner next.