'Broadcasting as we know it will never be the same,' CRTC chair tells Banff fest

BANFF, Alta. – The head of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission says the rules governing the TV industry need to be revisited — and he’s anxious to hear from Canadians on the issue.

“It’s time to ask ‘Do the assumptions that lie beneath our current regulatory policies still hold true?'” CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais asked during a Wednesday speech at the Banff World Media Festival.

“Broadcasting, as we once knew it, is no longer — and will never again be — the same.”

The CRTC will consult with Canadians beginning this fall in an effort to provide more flexible viewing options and make it easier for TV networks to compete with online challengers.

“We want to take the pulse of the population before undertaking any future regulatory proceedings. We need to hear directly from Canadians to make sure we do the right things, the right way, for the right reasons, in the right circumstances,” said Blais.

“It’s about ensuring that our television system serves the interests of all Canadians, not only those of the majority. There must be a range of choices and a diversity of content that reflects Canadians in all their circumstances.”

Blais says the CRTC has to have “the audacity to do the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons in the right circumstances.”

“Sometimes that means we, at the CRTC, have to step back. Boldly dare to let creative or market forces take over,” he said.

“But it can also mean stepping up — by regulating, over the offended protests of licensees, when necessary, to advance the public interest.”

The CRTC unveiled a new set of rules earlier this month allowing cellphone customers to walk away from their contracts after two years without any early cancellation penalties but didn’t go as far as an outright ban on the controversial three-year contracts that are so widely hated by many Canadians.

“The new wireless code we announced last week illustrates this philosophy in action. For many years, this served Canadians well. But, in the last few years, it became evident that the status quo was no longer satisfactory,” said Blais.

“We consulted widely with Canadians who told us, in no uncertain terms, that they are frustrated with the length of wireless contracts, cancellation fees and roaming charges, among other industry practices.”