#53 – We’re going to have our seven minutes of fame!

The e-mails have been flying. The civil servants of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) have been busily slotting this supplicant in here and that supplicant in there. They are allocating time slots for the people chosen to address the commissioners at next week’s public hearing (December 7 to 11) on paying broadcasters for local television signals.

Getting to address the commissioners is like winning a lottery. More than 14,000 Canadians filed comments with the commission. To be picked to actually speak to the commissioners is something of an honour.

But we are only getting seven minutes to state our case. When I quibbled about a Wednesday morning slot because of the drive time from Babel, I got moved to late Friday afternoon. And then they told me I had to be there at 9 am or I would be counted as absent for the day.

The problem with Friday afternoon is that if they run out of time, I could be left on the table. That is certainly an ugly prospect.

They also told me that I have to send the commission my remarks ahead of the hearing so the commissioners will know what I am going to say. I have therefore decided to send them the following:

Remarks for CRTC Hearing – December 11, 2009

by Peter Lowry

Chair and Commissioners:

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today. You asked for a response to four questions and these are addressed in my written submission of October. Today, in my few minutes, I would like to touch on your role as regulator.

I watched some of your meetings two weeks ago with people in the businesses of broadcasting and distributing television across Canada. I was concerned, at one point, when the chair, talking to the Rogers’ representatives, said there must be a way…. “to find a solution where we can carve up the pie…”

There is only one pie, Mr. Chairman. You’re talking to it this week. And I don’t think we like to be carved up by anyone.

I was also concerned when it was reported that you said to the industry people, “We’re not the industry experts, you are.”

That puzzled me. You were talking to accountants and people with business school backgrounds. They might throw out some technical jargon from their industry but the only expertise they might have is in profit and loss statements.

Their current problems are hardly technical. They are whining to you that they are in financial trouble. That can be of concern only because you look bad if you give broadcast licenses to people who cannot manage their money.

But their financial problems are not your fault. You are the regulator. Their financial problems are not the pie’s fault either. We all have financial problems these days.

In times past, the sovereign would issue Letters of Marque to loyal citizens. A Letter of Marque was a license as a privateer to go out and rape and pillage on the high seas. I expect a broadcasting license is somewhat similar to a Letter of Marque. Only with a broadcasting license, you do the raping and pillaging on dry land.

It used to be that the sovereign got a healthy cut of the booty from the privateers. Well, some of them got hung but that was hardly the sovereign’s fault. It’s just like the broadcasters: it’s not your fault if they can’t manage their bottom line.

You didn’t tell the Aspers to max out their credit cards buying publishing companies as well as Canwest Global. You didn’t tell CTVglobemedia to pay $153 million dollars to grab the Olympics away from the CBC.

If the broadcasters sincerely come to you for help, you could, maybe, cut up their credit cards for them. The best answer might be for you to tell them to start living within their means or you will give those broadcasting licenses to people who can.

You’re the regulator and you let that guy from CTVglobemedia sit in the hearing and threaten to pull the plug and not feed the cable or satellite companies. You should have told him to go ahead. In fact, you have the power to pull the plug for him.

You’re the regulator and you wonder why carriers such as Rogers and Bell are ignoring you as well as the broadcasters. You license those carriers. You let them pipe inferior television signals to their customers, charge whatever they want to charge and ignore their customer’s complaints, and you call it deregulation. Why should the carriers pay any attention to you or the broadcasters?

Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, speaking for the pie, I would like to assure you that there is no problem. Your job is really simple. Technologies advance and the players change. The business people you regulate win some; they lose some. Governments come and go. You are paid to look after the public interest. That is all Canadians expect of you. Please do it.

The pie thanks you.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

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