Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Only Remaining Decision

Since its inception, this blog has, from time to time, been obsessed with the Canada’s broadcast regulator, the CRTC.

But events from the last few days have convinced me that the moment has come to kick that habit. Because it appears that the only remaining decision to be made about the CRTC is what you’re going to wear to its funeral.

If you’ve been a reader of those past posts, you may have noticed that I began as someone who believed the Commission actually listened to the country’s artists and audiences in order to fulfill its parliamentary mandate that Canadian consumers of radio, television and other forms of telecommunication have their needs well served.

Then I became a guy offended at CRTC commissioners refusal to consider arguments from anyone but the major corporate players as the industries they regulated became less and less interested in providing content that was already only as Canadian as their rules of license absolutely required.

I suspected that the CRTC was inept, corrupt, the victim of regulatory capture or just plain stupid.

Then I stopped caring.

Because it had become clear that no matter how often interventions by interested consumers or artists involved in the industry were ultimately proven either prescient or flat out true, the Commission blindly continued to do what our rapidly converging-to-survive media conglomerates insisted was necessary to keep their own game going.

Every time my own Guild made presentations in Gatineau and returned to assure the membership they felt they’d finally been heard, I recalled my nerd buddies in high school helping cheerleaders with their homework and assuming that would get them somewhere.

As if.

And then this week, news items in the realms of internet, television and the cellular phone made it clear that whatever the CRTC says, does or threatens to say or do means nothing.


First up was a press release from the commission itself announcing that it was no longer pursuing an investigation of Rogers because it was “confident” the company was no longer throttling internet traffic or at least wouldn’t be by the end of the year.

Those paying attention will recall that thousands of Rogers subscribers, many paying for its most elite online services, had discovered their net usage was being regularly choked off, especially when they logged onto gaming sites.

The company first denied the accusation, then admitted to it while begging the commission for understanding (and maybe some additional internet usage fees), then promised to comply with an order to cease and desist –- by the end of 2012 –- or six more months from now –even though it could have been technically accomplished overnight.

In other words, there will be no penalty for charging customers for services they did not receive. No monitoring of a company who flat out lied to everybody it could when first caught.

In fact, Rogers can now get away with doing whatever they finally admitted doing for another six months even if that means consumers continue to be stiffed in the meantime because…

Because the CRTC is “confident”...

Message to Consumers: Even if you get the CRTC to help you, what you’ve lost remains lost.

Next came an announcement from Netflix that current viewing levels reveal the company is now more popular than all US cable networks combined.

And when that’s combined with news that a million people cut off their cable providers in 2011, there’s now tangible proof that everything the CRTC has done over the last five years to allow Canadian networks to amortize their minimal Cancon production slates over virtually every channel, pay-cable tier and platform they own will be for naught.

The audience now knows it can find something it would rather watch somewhere else and cheaper. Meaning most of them will also soon realize that if there is no real “value for service” there’s not much value in having that service to begin with.

Message to broadcasters: You can’t fix stupid. The CRTC can only help you kill yourselves quicker.

Finally, the Supreme Court gave its approval to an $18 billion class action suit against our biggest cellphone providers for falsely claiming the CRTC itself required them to charge a “system access fee”.

Not something the CRTC hasn’t been aware of for years. Not something they didn’t hear about from consumers daily and could readily have stopped with a single phone call.

Just one more thing they didn’t address, even when their own name and reputation were used to defraud the very consumers they were mandated to protect.

Why? Who knows. Maybe they didn’t want to jeopardize the play days when the guys socking it away at Bell, Rogers and Telus took everybody down to Bank Street for ice cream and maybe a Beavertail.

Now the industry the CRTC insisted it was supporting could be on the verge of the biggest consumer payout in the nation’s history.

Ask yourself two questions -- If Rogers fires 375 people after profits drop $30 Million over an annual quarter, how many will they cut when they have to find their share of $18 Billion?

And –- How long will I be on hold at Customer Service once that happens?

Message to everybody: The CRTC does no good for anybody.

If you ask me, the only decision the CRTC’s new Chairman, Jean-Pierre Blais has to make is whether to blow his brains out with the internet gun, the television gun or the one that doubles as a cellphone.

Because nothing the CRTC does matters any longer. At every turn it is being overruled by the Harper Government, by-passed by new technology and outsmarted by consumer advocates who actually do their jobs.

It’s over. Decide what you’re wearing to the funeral.

And don’t forget to put on some dancing shoes.

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