The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC, French: Conseil de la radiodiffusion et des télécommunications canadiennes) is a public organisation in Canada with mandate as a regulatory agency for broadcasting and telecommunications. It was created in 1976 when it took over responsibility for regulating telecommunication carriers. Prior to 1976, it was known as the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, which was established in 1968 by the Parliament of Canada to replace the Board of Broadcast Governors. Its headquarters is located in the Central Building (Édifice central) of Les Terrasses de la Chaudière in Gatineau, Quebec.
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 (for example, 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:
Other telephone companies, many of which were publicly owned and entirely within a province's borders, 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. Notable in this group were:
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 and the legislated principle of the predominance of Canadian content, 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 (CBSC), 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, as well as the CBSC's controversial ruling on the Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing".
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, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (formerly Industry Canada) is responsible for allocating frequencies and call signs, managing the broadcast spectrum, and regulating other technical issues such as interference with electronics equipment.
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 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, Canadian broadcast distributors must replace the show on the US channel with the broadcast of the Canadian channel, along with any overlays and commercials. As Grey's Anatomy is on ABC, but is carried in Canada on CTV at the same time, for instance, the cable, satellite, or other broadcast distributor must send the CTV feed over the signal of the carried ABC affiliate, even where the ABC 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.) Viewers via home antenna who receive both American and Canadian networks on their personal sets are not affected by sim-sub.
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.
In a major May 1999 decision on "New Media", the CRTC held that under the Broadcasting Act the CRTC had jurisdiction over 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.
In May 2011, in response to the increase presence of Over-the-Top (OTT) programming, the CRTC put a call out to the public to provide input on the impact OTT programming is having on Canadian content and existing broadcasting subscriptions through satellite and cable. On October 5, 2011 the CRTC released their findings that included consultations with stakeholders from the telecommunications industry, media producers, and cultural leaders among others. The evidence was inconclusive, suggesting that an increased availability of OTT options is not having a negative impact on the availability or diversity of Canadian content, one of the key policy mandates of the CRTC, nor are there signs that there has been a significant decline of televisions subscriptions through cable or satellite. However, given the rapid progress in the industry they are working on a more in depth study to be concluded in May 2012.
The CRTC does not directly regulate rates, quality of service issues, or business practices for Internet service providers. However, the CRTC does continually monitor the sector and associated trends.
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 (for example, 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.
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 license. 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.
Since 1987, the CRTC has been involved in several controversial decisions:
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) appointed by the Cabinet for renewable terms of up to five years. However, unlike the more directly political appointees of the American Federal Communications Commission, the CRTC is an arms-length regulatory body with more autonomous authority over telecommunications. For example, the CRTC's decisions rely more on a more judiciary process relying on evidence submitted during public consultations, rather than along party lines as the American FCC is prone to do.
The CRTC Interconnection Steering Committee (CISC) assists in developing information, procedures and guidelines for the CRTC's regulatory activities.