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  • Ted Woodhead

Don't look at me, I had nothing to do with it

In an unusual reactive statement in response to news today from BCE Inc. in its Q4 financial release and analyst call, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) seems to have provided its response to BCE's disclosure according to

In an unsolicited statement, the CRTC said: “Like all Canadians, the CRTC is concerned about job losses. The CRTC does not determine how private companies allocate their profits. Companies are best placed to answer questions related to their business decisions. The CRTC is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal that regulates the broadcasting and telecommunications industries in the public interest. We hold public proceedings and make decisions based on broad public records. We will continue to fulfill our mandate for Canadians.

Put another way, the CRTC's response to the announced 4,800 job losses making up 9% of BCE's workforce with 10% of those cuts coming from its media arm, Bell Media, the sale of 45 local radio stations and the elimination of local newscasts in many local markets and many other things the response from the national regulator is actually "don't look at me, I had nothing to do with it?". Really?

In a slide the situation looks like this:

First, I would like to express my sympathy and solidarity with the impacted employees. It is not a happy day for them or their families. Second, I would say to the CRTC that as Canada's national telecom and broadcasting regulator perhaps a period of introspection is necessary. Indeed, as Canada's national telecom and broadcasting regulator it may well be that you did have something to do with it.

Both telecom and broadcasting are tightly regulated in Canada, and more so than in many other global jurisdictions. When a major player in the broadcasting and telecom landscape says that a major component of its regulated business is no longer viable that should raise some concern from the regulator and motivate that regulator to ask itself some fundamental questions such as "did I do anything to cause or hasten this either by commission or omission?" and, "how can I change any regulatory or respond to market factors that may have played a role in it?". To simply respond that it was a business decision seems staggeringly tone deaf.

Commission Chair Vicky Eatrides is quoted in InterMEDIA in December 2023 as saying, "We can’t take regulatory frameworks that have been in place for years and simply apply them to our new reality.''

Commission Chair Eatrides also said, in relation to the new Online Streaming Act, that

The CRTC’s role in implementing the Act is to build a new regulatory framework. This is no small feat. The changes that are needed are substantial and complex. There are many interconnected issues to be addressed. Our challenge here is to make sure that the new framework not only addresses the current needs of the system, but that it is sufficiently flexible to deal with new issues and technologies. We want to develop an approach that is prospective rather than prescriptive and to create a system that is robust in the face of change.

What I have heard from broadcasters is that the current regulatory restrictions, burdens and costs have been crippling. The news earlier today would appear to me to be a trailing indicator of that. The answer from a regulatory perspective cannot be to simply continue regulating these sectors as they have been. Equally, the answer should not be to regulate new players as you have the established ones. Clearly, that thinking has led to poor results as evidenced by today's news.

To me a response from the regulator that says essentially "don't look at me" is callow and worse, irresponsible.


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