CRTC 50th anniversaryCRTC 50th anniversary

The CRTC is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018. To celebrate this milestone, we will be publishing a series of articles throughout the year on various highlights of the CRTC’s history. Here are the published articles.

The CRTC’s origins

We have to go back to 1852, when the first Telegraph Act was adopted, to discover the origins of the CRTC. From the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell to the first radio station that broadcast regular programming, the broadcasting and telecommunications industries have continually developed in Canada. The regulation of these industries has also continued to evolve.

As early as 1928, the first Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting recommended the creation of a national broadcasting network supervised by an independent federal organization. Consequently, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) was created in 1932.

However, in 1936, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) / Société Radio-Canada (SRC) was founded and replaced the CRBC. In 1957, the Fowler Commission recommended that the CBC/SRC abandon its role as the broadcasting regulator. One year later, a new organization, the Board of Broadcast Governors, took over the CBC/SRC’s functions related to the regulation of Canadian broadcasting, including the CBC/SRC and private broadcasters.

In 1966, the government announced its broadcasting policy and deemed it essential that Canadians retain control over new communications technologies. In 1968, the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRC) was founded and entrusted with this mandate. To include telecommunications companies and broaden its jurisdiction, the CRC became the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 1976, as we know it today.

Since then, the CRTC has been an administrative tribunal that regulates and supervises broadcasting and telecommunications in the public interest. It is dedicated to ensuring that Canadians have access to a world-class communication system that meets their needs.

The CRTC encourages the growth of Canadian culture

In the early 1970s, the CRTC was responsible for implementing the Broadcasting Act, and it put in place a set of rules to guide the mandatory broadcasting of Canadian content in the country. Today, this important decision to impose Canadian content quotas still contributes actively to creative production adapted to the Canadian public.

Radio

In the 1960s, in was difficult for Canadian music to find its place on the Canadian airwaves. Radio stations were airing mostly British and U.S. songs. To be heard in the country, Canadian musicians first had to break into the European or U.S. markets.

In 1971, the rules on quotas for Canadian content became a game-changer. From then on, the majority of Canadian stations were required to broadcast a minimum of 25% Canadian content. In 1980, these quotas were reviewed and adjusted upwards to 30%, and in 1999 they rose to 35%.

TV

Like radio, the Canadian television channels faced strong competition from the U.S. cultural market. Beginning in October 1972, the CRTC required that at least 60% of the content presented be of Canadian origin.

With the CRTC’s interventions, the Broadcasting Act (adopted in 1968) took shape and the Canadian cultural industry benefited enormously. Today, Canadian creativity is renowned across Canada and around the world.

The CRTC authorizes the first specialty television services in the country

It was in 1982, when it authorized pay television channels, that the CRTC opened the door to specialty television services. Two years later, the CRTC approved the applications of CHUM/CITY-TV for the creation of MuchMusic, and Action Canada Sports Network (ACSN) for the creation of TSN. In 1984, the first two specialty channels made their debut on our television screens.

MuchMusic

Until then, in Canada, music videos were generally limited to certain programs airing on conventional television stations. According to the Commission, establishing a network that specialized in music would mark a turning point in the production of music videos and showcasing of Canadian artists. MuchMusic would also prompt the Canadian industry to experiment and to meet the demand of an increasingly large audience for music video programming.

TSN

This new channel was to complement the offer of sports programming aired on conventional and pay television channels. The ACSN’s objective was to provide fans with a diversified range of Canadian and international sports and to broadcast certain Canadian university and amateur sports. The agreement between the ACSN and the CRTC included, among others, provisions to air a Sports Canada program every week. All of the advertising revenues generated by this two-hour sports magazine show would be retained by Sports Canada to cover the cost of producing and purchasing programs. Other commitments were also made to ensure the promotion and visibility of Canadian amateur sport.

Also in 1982, the CRTC approved three other ethnic services—Chinavision, Cathay and Telelatino—in addition to the distribution in Canada of 17 U.S. channels, including CNN, A&E, CMT, FNN, TLC and The Weather Channel.

In the years that followed, the CRTC periodically approved the addition of numerous specialty channels. With the advent of digital cable, Canadians today have access to hundreds of specialty channels, and the cable industry continues its transformation.

CRTC allows competition in the long-distance market

The early 90s gave the CRTC a golden opportunity to place the interests of Canadian consumers at the centre of one of its decisions – a decision that La Presse called historic at the time. On June 12, 1992, the CRTC ended the monopoly held by Bell Canada and a handful of local telephone companies for over a hundred years and encouraged competition in the long-distance telephone service market in order to welcome new players.

It took 40 hearing days for the CRTC to build a complete record so that it could make a decision; this was the most complex issue it had ever faced. The CRTC based its decision on the need to introduce free competition to the sector and bring in some new players. In a few months, subscribers to Bell Canada and other regional companies could employ the services of two newcomers to the long-distance market: Unitel and BCRL. The CRTC gave them the green light to break into the highly lucrative long-distance market, valued at the time at $7.5 billion.

In this new competitive market, the CRTC’s role was to establish standards and conditions for interconnection between the networks of the old monopoly holders and those of the newcomers. The CRTC then made sure that the conditions of competition were respected and that all the players followed the new rules of the game.

Opening the market to free competition had the intended effect. The price of long-distance service in Canada dropped, and Canadian consumers had more choices for long-distance providers. Five years later, with the same goal, the CRTC authorized competition in the local telephone service market.

CRTC facilitates production and broadcasting of Canadian television programming

As it celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1993, the CRTC announced the creation of a new $300-million fund, over five years, from cable companies for the production of new Canadian programming. The Cable Production Fund (CPF) was officially launched two years later, and was in line with the CRTC’s mission to ensure that Canadians have access to compelling creative content from diverse sources on a variety of platforms, and that the content reflects Canada’s diversity.

On September 9, 1996, the CPF became part of the Department of Canadian Heritage within the framework of a new public-private partnership between the Government of Canada and the cable and satellite television industry. The new partnership, partially administered by Téléfilm Canada, was renamed the Canadian Television and Cable Production Fund (CTCPF). The new fund was eligible for new government credits.

Two years later, the CTCPF was renamed the Canadian Television Fund (CTF).

The following years were marked by rapidly evolving technology and other changes. This trend led to the creation of the Canada New Media Fund in 2001, which was combined with the CTF in 2009 to form the Canada Media Fund (CMF) as we know it today.

CRTC at the centre of a world premiere

In its 50 years, the CRTC has made many achievements, which continue to have a significant impact on Canadians. That’s exactly what happened on February 22, 1999. On that day, the CRTC wrote a chapter of history and issued a licence to the first national television service in the world dedicated to Aboriginal peoples. On September 1 that same year, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) broadcast its first images and was distributed nationally.

It took over 20 years of hard work to get to that point, and the CRTC played a key role from the start. In 1980, the CRTC established the Committee on the Extension of Service to Northern and Remote Communities. The Committee’s report supported the development of broadcast initiatives that would assist Indigenous peoples to preserve their languages and foster their culture. Soon after the report was released, the CRTC licensed a Canadian distributor to deliver a range of southern programming into northern and remote communities and, at the same time, provide development assistance to northern Indigenous broadcasters.

A major breakthrough in the evolution of Indigenous broadcasting took place in 1983 when the Government of Canada announced the Northern Native Broadcast Access Program. Public funds were allocated for the production of radio and television programs by 13 native communications societies across the north.

In 1985, the CRTC Northern Native Broadcasting policy statement recognized the need for a dedicated northern transponder to distribute television programming across the north. For the next several years, the federal government and northern broadcasters established the groundwork for a northern satellite distribution system. In 1991, the CRTC licensed Television Northern Canada (TVNC) and, within a year, the network was launched in the north.

As we say the rest is history, and since 1999, First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples have the opportunity to share their stories on a national television network dedicated to Indigenous programming.

The CRTC: One of the world’s first regulators to adopt an approach to online audiovisual content

Back in May 1999, the CRTC published a major decision that would help shape the Internet as we know it today.

During a November 1998 process, the CRTC had to determine if the regulation that applied to traditional television and radio services should be extended to audiovisual content delivered and accessed over the Internet. A majority of participants strongly advised that the Broadcasting Act should not include Internet content. Back then, the Internet mainly contained text and was therefore out of the CRTC’s jurisdiction.

Also, as stated by the Commission, there was no apparent shortage of Canadian content on the Internet. Rather, market forces were providing a Canadian presence on the Internet, which was also supported by a strong demand for Canadian product. The CRTC therefore decided to exempt online video and audio services from its regulation.

A decade later, the CRTC reconfirmed its hands-off approach and expanded the definition of digital media to include content accessed over mobile devices.

The 1999 decision helped develop an emerging Canadian digital economy and new opportunities to tell Canadian stories. Twenty years later, Canadians are increasingly turning to digital platforms to consume audio and video content, as well as watching television and listening to the radio.

Implementation of the National DNCL

In the early 2000s, the CRTC started receiving an increasing number of complaints from Canadian consumers about unwanted telemarketing calls. In 2004, the federal government tabled a bill in Parliament to tackle the problem and create a do not call list (DNCL). A task force held many discussions, which were sometimes quite complex. The CRTC ultimately had to settle a number of disagreements, including the decision that the cost of the list would be paid for by telemarketing companies.

After several years of intense deliberations and discussions, the CRTC launched the National Do Not Call List on September 30, 2008. Similar to lists implemented by Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, the new list enables Canadian consumers to receive fewer unwanted telemarketing calls when they add their names to a central list, free of charge.

These rules prohibit telemarketers from contacting consumers whose number is on the National DNCL. Conversely, consumers who haven’t added their number to the DNCL may still be called.

Today, there are over 13 million telephone numbers on the National DNCL, and an average of 588 new numbers are added daily. The CRTC is continuing to step up monitoring to ensure that all telemarketers follow the rules. Since the DNCL’s creation in 2008, the CRTC has carried out more than 2,600 investigations and fined violators over $8 million in administrative monetary penalties.

CRTC supports a fair and equitable Internet

In April 2008, the CRTC received a complaint about reduced traffic speed for certain data on an Internet service provider’s network. The complaint raised concerns regarding data traffic management on Internet networks in Canada, and the Commission decided to investigate these practices. As part of the investigation, the CRTC launched a public consultation on Canadians’ consumer trends and on the evolution of Internet traffic.

After the proceeding, the CRTC published the framework for Internet traffic management practices in 2009. Among other things, the CRTC said that Internet service providers must be transparent when using Internet Traffic Management Practices (ITMPs), and must keep consumers informed so that they can make enlightened decisions about the services they are using. They must also make sure that network investment is a fundamental tool for dealing with network congestion, and that any ITMPs they employ are not unjustly discriminatory or preferential. This announcement marked the first time that the CRTC took an official position to support a fair and equitable Internet – i.e. Net neutrality.

In the same vein, in 2015, the CRTC issued another decision related to the issue of Net neutrality. This time, it directed certain service providers to stop giving their mobile television services an unfair advantage by exempting them from standard monthly data charges. The CRTC continued down the same path in 2017, issuing a new policy regarding differential pricing practices, in which it stated that Internet service providers must treat data equally.

By publishing its decisions, the CRTC makes sure that consumers have access to a wide range of content to be discovered without any interference.

2010: Implementation of the National Public Alerting System

In 2007, the Commission paved the way for the creation of a national emergency alert system by removing regulatory obstacles.

Two years later, the CRTC granted Canadian undertaking Pelmorex Communications Inc. mandatory distribution for its specialty services, The Weather Network and MétéoMédia, on the digital basic service. Pelmorex also committed to acting as a national aggregator of emergency alert messages, and to distributing alert messages to broadcasting undertakings for free and on demand.

As planned, in June 2010, Pelmorex launched the National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination (NAAD) System. Since then, Environment Canada and the thirteen provinces and territories, through their emergency management organizations, have formed agreements to coordinate the dissemination of alert messages to Canadians through the NAAD system.

The NAAD system has revolutionized emergency communications in Canada, as it allows emergency messages to be sent to broadcasters, who then quickly inform the public of imminent or ongoing situations that could be dangerous, such as natural disasters, biological threats, environmental disasters and civil emergencies. The system allows for the immediate dissemination of critical alerts issued by the government.

As of March 2015, FM radio, AM radio and over-the-air television stations, as well as subscription broadcasting service providers, have participated in the National Public Alerting System by transmitting emergency alerts to the Canadian public.

Since April 2018, Canadians have been receiving alerts on their mobile devices, which is a major development for the National Public Alerting System.

From Analog to Digital TV

The way we watch television is evolving. On August 31, 2011, Canadian local over-the-air television stations, in certain areas, stopped broadcasting in analog and began broadcasting digital signals thanks to a decision made by the CRTC. The quality of the digital signal was a significant improvement over the old-fashioned analog one. It also freed up airwaves, which are now used for wireless services and emergency communications.

When the switch from analog to digital took place, “rabbit-ears” or outdoor antennas were used by approximately 10% of viewers to receive local over-the-air television stations. The CRTC required all broadcasters to go digital in 30 markets including all provincial capitals and cities with a population of 300,000 or more. Transmitters located in less populated rural areas, however, were exempt from this decision.

The CRTC’s decision made it clear that it was time to say goodbye to that nostalgic technology, and replace it with smaller and more reliable digital technology. By providing better quality, picture and sound to Canadian viewers, it brought Canada in line with other countries who had already made the full transition to digital signals.

Now, almost all Canadian televisions run solely through digital signals and perhaps, in a few years from now, a new technology to receive local over-the-air television will emerge.

Launch of the CRTC Wireless Code

In December 2013, a CRTC decision revolutionized Canadians’ relationships with their wireless service providers. The goal was to protect Canadians with mobile wireless plans. The Wireless Code set out consumers’ rights and the rules that service providers had to follow.

By way of a public consultation, the CRTC learned about Canadians’ frustrations and the industry’s perspective. Among other issues, the CRTC recognized that wireless service contracts  were complicated and difficult to interpret. The Code, created in 2013, addressed this concern by establishing new rules for wireless service contract clarity, cancellation fees and reduced surprise charges. Five years later, these measures have done a great deal for Canadian consumers.

In June 2017, the CRTC revised the Wireless Code. The revision gave consumers the right to unlock their mobile devices on demand, and helped families better manage overage charges. Once again, the CRTC demonstrated its commitment to Canadians, making sure to address their concerns about their wireless services.

Today, Canadians can make informed choices about their wireless services. With its Wireless Code, the CRTC clearly established consumers’ rights and service providers’ obligations.

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation

In 2014, on Canada Day, Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL) came into force. Thanks to CASL, Canadians are now protected from spam and other online threats. CASL has put control back in the hands of Canadians, ensuring they only receive commercial electronic messages (which include emails, texts and social media messages) that they want. The CRTC enforces CASL with its partners, the Competition Bureau and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

CASL has undoubtedly changed the way businesses and organizations conduct electronic outreach, marketing and fundraising activities. The CRTC is committed to providing guidance to businesses and individuals on how to comply with the law. Organizations that do not comply risk facing significant penalties.

But CASL covers more than just emails! CASL was intended to combat the most harmful and misleading forms of online threats, and it prohibits damaging and deceptive spam, spyware, botnets and other malicious activity. The CRTC recently concluded its first malware case under CASL, further protecting Canadians from this online threat.

It has been four years since CASL came into force and the CRTC has been actively enforcing the law with its partners in Canada and abroad. The CRTC is committed to protecting Canadians, while ensuring that businesses can continue to compete in the global marketplace.