New CRTC Chair’s Leadership Will Help Shape the Future of Canada’s Communication System
From: Canadian Heritage
GATINEAU, February 6, 2023
Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage, and François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, sent a letter to Vicky Eatrides, recently appointed Chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
The Government of Canada would like to congratulate the new Chair of the CRTC and to inform her of the Government’s vision and priorities with respect to Canada’s broadcasting and telecommunications system.
Here is the full text of the letter sent on February 3:
Dear Vicky Eatrides:
Congratulations on your appointment as Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
Through the open and transparent process for the selection of this important position, it became clear that your track record of leadership, change management, competition and commitment to the public interest was what was needed for the CRTC at this critical juncture. We are confident in your abilities to lead this organization into an evolving and ever-more-important function, and to see to its continued modernization to being more open, transparent, efficient, and effective. The need for a new approach is underpinned by the dramatic changes that are occurring in our country’s communications ecosystem. Given this, we would like to take this opportunity to highlight a number of the issues that will be important in fulfilling your mandate.
For over 50 years, the Government of Canada has remained committed to an independent public authority that operates at arm’s length as a communications regulator. This ensures that the Canadian communications system is supervised and regulated in an impartial manner by an expert body, which is essential to a free and democratic society. Mindful of our respective roles and responsibilities, we believe that we can work together on shared objectives, such as the creation and dissemination of quality Canadian audio and audiovisual content on all platforms and the strengthening of telecommunications affordability, competition, and consumer rights.
For Canadians, the Internet has added unprecedented connectivity and communication to almost every aspect of daily life. Greater availability and affordability of high-speed Internet offer Canadians increased opportunities to participate in our economy and democracy and to stay connected with family and friends. While digital transformation creates opportunities, it also brings challenges. We have now all witnessed the ways in which digital technologies can undermine our culture, entrench inequality and unfairness in society and jeopardize democracy. Navigating this digital reality will be a critical focus for all of us.
The Government of Canada has an ambitious legislative and policy agenda to advance the cultural, social, and economic interests of Canada and of Canadians in the digital economy. Together, the proposed Online Streaming Act, Online News Act, and Digital Charter Implementation Act, as well as a future legislation on online safety, represent core pillars of our digital policy agenda. This legislation builds on the foundations of the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, as well as Canada’s anti-spam legislation, alongside important ongoing work on competition, digital access and adoption, and Canadian leadership in new technologies. Your leadership, and that of the CRTC more broadly, will be critical to ensuring that new legislation is implemented effectively. Practical and workable regulations can ensure policy goals are met while maintaining Canadians’ online experience and ensuring everyone can participate in and benefit from an increasingly digital culture and society.
An expert and independent regulator facing waning trust
As an expert independent regulator, the CRTC implements the laws and regulations set forth by Parliament in the public interest. As the CRTC’s leader, your role is vital in upholding public trust in the institution. The CRTC has a long history of balancing critical public policy objectives that can come into tension, which include individual interests and the pursuit of the common good and the long-term interests of the country.
Unfortunately, our sense is that public confidence and trust in the CRTC has waned in recent years. Over the course of our mandates, we have spoken and engaged with Canadians, parliamentarians, stakeholders, academics, and civil society on their experiences with, and perceptions of, the CRTC. While there is broad and strong support for an independent and effective CRTC, we consistently heard that the organization falls short in three areas:
- Timeliness of decision making
- Accessibility of CRTC processes to the public, non-corporate interest groups, and civil society
- Openness and transparency
On the first point, there is a perception that the CRTC is taking too long to make decisions. CRTC regulatory decisions are essential to creating a stable, competitive, and innovative business environment. Undue delays create uncertainty and potentially impact investment decisions and service offerings for Canadians. As the pace of technological change continues unabated, timely decision making will only be more critical in responding to the needs and expectations of society and industry.
Public interest decision making requires hearing from diverse interests. Right now, there is a perception among many that access to CRTC processes is unequal. While the regulator’s open and evidence-based processes are a core strength, barriers to participation remain. Smaller organizations and civil society groups, in particular, expressed concern about not having the same level of resources as large corporate interests to participate in CRTC proceedings.
In addition, hearing from traditionally marginalized communities is essential to achieving a fairer and inclusive communications system that is reflective of Canadian society. The Online Streaming Act, for example, proposes to update the policy objectives of the Broadcasting Act to be more inclusive of Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, Black and other racialized Canadians, and ethnocultural communities, among others. These communities deserve a seat at the table in these discussions. In this vein, the CRTC should continue to advance reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples by engaging and co-developing policies that may impact them in a spirit of recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.
In the years ahead, the CRTC’s decisions will shape the digital economy in Canada. As noted above, the CRTC has a long history of evidence-based decision making. Through legislation before Parliament, the Government proposes to further enhance the CRTC’s information-gathering and data-sharing powers. We trust that interested parties, civil society, and the public can continue to count on the CRTC to help them understand the reasoning, evidence, and data underpinning its decisions. Active market monitoring and international benchmarking can help Canadians understand the context for regulation and so better equip them to participate in its formation.
Success depends on sharing data and information and collaborating on complex and interrelated issues arising from the digital economy. In the years ahead, the CRTC may wish to consider opportunities where it can coordinate its work with existing and proposed regulators, such as the commissioners for privacy, competition, and, potentially, digital safety and data.
Finally, we also heard from civil society that improved digital access is important to improving transparency and accessibility of CRTC decision making. For example, the Copyright Board of Canada recently worked with the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) to upload its tariff decisions to the database in an effort to make those decisions more accessible. We encourage you to consider creative and innovative ways to improve access to and usability of information and data held by the CRTC.
Forward agenda: Telecommunications
Telecommunications are increasingly essential to all aspects of Canadians’ lives and livelihoods. There is more work to be done to improve the functioning of the telecom industry for Canadians. To guide this work, the Government has proposed a new policy direction to the CRTC that will be foundational for all efforts in this area. Once final, the policy direction will provide clear instruction on key policy issues that outline the Government’s expectations as the CRTC performs its duties under the Telecommunications Act.
Overall, competition and affordability continue to be seminal issues in telecommunications, given the inherent barriers to entry and economies of scale. The CRTC has played a critical role in advancing competition, and its framework for wholesale access represents a core stream of ongoing work. Wholesale access is a proven regulatory tool for enabling retail competition in the Internet service market, and the CRTC can ensure that this tool is used, supervised, and adjusted effectively and in a timely manner. The CRTC can also promote competition by continuing with its approach to wireless services, while also monitoring to determine when changes are necessary.
The Government of Canada continues to support a competitive marketplace where consumers are treated fairly. It is important to continue to advocate for consumers, particularly those who are vulnerable, in their relationships with service providers. The CRTC can contribute to the Telecommunications Reliability Agenda to improve the reliability and resiliency of telecommunications networks and protect consumer rights. Protecting consumer interests is important in many regards, including when assessing the effectiveness of consumer codes and working with industry to protect consumers from fraudulent calls.
While the vast majority of Canadians are well served by high-quality telecommunications networks, gaps remain in underserved rural, remote, and Indigenous regions where the business case for network expansion is challenging.
The Government and the CRTC have important and shared roles to help bridge these gaps and ensure that all Canadians have access to high-quality broadband and mobile networks. The CRTC can continue to make positive impacts through support for infrastructure and consideration of broadband deployment barriers.
Forward agenda: Digital media
The Online Streaming Act, also known as Bill C-11, seeks to update the policy objectives of the Broadcasting Act and ensure that streaming services meaningfully contribute to supporting the creation, production, and distribution of Canadian stories and music. To achieve these objectives, the Bill proposes giving the CRTC new regulatory tools. The passage of the Online Streaming Act would represent a watershed moment and an opportunity to craft a forward-looking, flexible regulatory framework for online broadcasting in Canada. If Parliament passes the Bill, the Governor in Council is expected to issue a policy direction to guide the CRTC in implementing it. Once the policy direction process has concluded, you can expect interested parties to quickly look to the CRTC to provide a roadmap for when and how the key regulatory questions will be considered.
The policy debate around the Online Streaming Act raised a key concern amongst parliamentarians regarding freedom of expression as they look for assurance that the Bill cannot be used to stifle what Canadians say online. The Broadcasting Act is fundamentally about promoting cultural expression, not hindering it. For decades, the Act has ensured re-investment into local content creation, support for creators and the sustainability of creative industries in Canada. Subsection 2(3) of the current Act already provides that it must be construed in a manner consistent with freedom of expression. As the Bill currently stands, parliamentarians have proposed additional amendments to further reinforce the importance and protection of freedom of expression. The rights and freedoms enjoyed by Canadians under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are of paramount importance. If Parliament adopts Bill C-11, the Government trusts that the CRTC will implement a renewed Broadcasting Act in a manner consistent with the Charter.
Bill C-18, the Online News Act, seeks to enhance fairness in the Canadian digital news marketplace and to support its sustainability. The bargaining framework proposed by the legislation is intended to benefit a diversity of news businesses, including local and independent outlets. If passed, Bill C-18 would empower the CRTC to implement and oversee this new framework by creating and enforcing regulations. The Government will rely on the Commission`s expertise in dispute resolution to implement an effective, common-sense framework.
Maintaining a free and independent press in Canada must guide the Commission in its work. The independence of the CRTC, along with the transparency of its processes, will be of the highest importance. The Government will also seek input from the CRTC in the process of exercising the regulatory powers delegated to the Governor in Council under the Act. This will allow the Government to benefit from the experience and expertise of the Commission and to ensure the efficient and consistent application of the Act.
You assume leadership of the CRTC at a critical moment, as we are beginning a new chapter in the digital age. The mission of the CRTC has never been more important or relevant.
During your mandate, the Commission will consider some incredibly important questions. The workload will no doubt be significant. We believe that the public’s trust and confidence in the CRTC to respond to this work will depend on the CRTC’s ability to harness and grow its expertise and to meaningfully address the concerns that we have outlined above, while maintaining the highest level of impartiality and integrity.
Canadians have heightened needs and expectations for access to an affordable, competitive, and world-class communication system. By regulating in the public interest, you can help ensure all Canadians can create, connect, and participate in our country’s democracy, culture, and economy.
We are confident that you and the rest of the Commission are up to the task. We wish you all the best as you assume your new responsibilities.
The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Canadian Heritage and Quebec Lieutenant
The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry
For more information (media only), please contact:
Office of the Minister of Canadian Heritage