The CRTC, the body that makes the rules for the media and telecom industry, is asking Canadians about the future of digital services in Canada. As part of their 'TalkTV' initiative, they've launched an interactive questionnaire called 'Choicebook' about government rules that have the potential to either help fix our dysfunctional telecom market, or give big conglomerates who dominate almost 90% of the market even more power to raise prices and control services.
We should all welcome the fact that the CRTC, a previously closed-off institution, is actively consulting the public. It is rare for a public institution to go to such lengths to collect citizen input and this is something to be encouraged. It is in this spirit that we feel the need to intervene and make decision-makers at the CRTC aware that their Choicebook initiative has some critical flaws.
Since the Choicebook survey launched, we've been hearing from Canadians and experts like Michael Geist and Peter Nowak that they find it "lopsided", and even misleading. As one online commenter put it, "it seems like they 'consulted' with the industry first before 'consulting' with customers."
To help ensure that Internet users' voices are heard, your team at OpenMedia.ca have put together a question-by-question readers' guide to the CRTC's Choicebook survey. We hope you find it useful, and encourage you to take a few moments to prevent the CRTC from going in the wrong direction. >>>
Is this just about TV?
No. The CRTC is focusing on the "future of TV" in this consultation but the outcome could impact all digital services including how we use the Internet. When a few giant conglomerates dominate TV content and distribution they can leverage these assets to restrict the open Internet. We've seen this recently with several giant telecoms making the mobile Internet more expensive in order to push the content they own to customers, and we've even seen outright content blocking.
Looking forward, now that Rogers owns the rights to NHL streaming will they restrict our access to NHL content unless we subscribe to their myriad of expensive services? Bell Canada has already blocked online access to certain CTV shows like the Daily Show.
In short, TV (broadcasting) policies can help telecom giants push Canadians back into an outdated walled garden of media services -- a command-and-control medium of information and expression. This approach is bad for free expression online, bad for creators, bad for online innovation and bad for the economy overall.
On the flip side, as our Casting an Open Net report shows, there is a huge opportunity if we get key policy decisions right. In particular, rules could be established to separate content from telecom control and it could put a stop to millions of dollars in lavish content subsidies for large telecom conglomerates.
Policy changes in the public interest could also make it far easier for indie ISPs to roll out their own TV services and better compete with big telecom bundles. Content could be available on open online platforms, rather than hoarded and blocked. Most importantly, if we get the rules right we could prevent giant telecom providers from using content as a mechanism to lasso Canadians into their walled gardens of services.
Those who have taken part in earlier aspects of the CRTC's process, including our Connected Canada project, highlighted the need to prevent telecom conglomerates from limiting access to content and services, to ensure access to public media and other independent services, and to decentralize the telecom services market.
The message of our events was clear: Canadians want concerted action from decision-makers to create open and affordable Internet access for everyone.
This 'choicebook' initiative is meant to build upon input the CRTC have received but it appears to be geared toward the interests of industry lobbyists. The primary concerns of Canadians are almost entirely absent and even undermined by the clear bias in the CRTC's survey.
The CRTC has responded to broad criticism that their 'Choicebook' consultation is "slanted" by saying it was meant to be provocative. That does not explain the lopsided approach and clearly they could be provocative in a manner that is not steering answers toward the interests of the broadcast/telecom industry. The CRTC will have to earn back our trust by ensuring the rest of the process responds to the need to decentralize services and limit large telecom providers' control.
It's important that we show the CRTC that these questions are biased questions and that they won't deter us from speaking up for the open Internet and affordable services that are independent of big telecom giants.