The CRTC could become a much smaller body reporting to a reconstituted Department of Communications if recommendations of a Parliamentary committee studying broadcasting are heeded. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage included these suggestions in its massive look at the broadcasting sector in Canada (NL Update, June 11/03). Following a two-year review, the committee last week released an 872-page report, Our Cultural Sovereignty: The Second Century of Canadian Broadcasting, which devotes most of its attention to strictly television and radio issues. But it does touch on areas where jurisdiction over communications and telecom overlap. Cut CRTC membership Chief among these is the makeup of the CRTC. Several witnesses told the 13 MPs on the committee that the commission is too large. Others opined that the six regional commissioners are too parochial and do not look at the broad national picture. The MPs accepted those ideas. "The committee recommends that the CRTC be reduced in size from 13 to 9 commissioners and that the abolition of regional commissioners be considered," the report states. "Proper consideration should also be given to ensuring that there is a linguistic and regional balance and that a diversity of viewpoints and experiences is reflected in the membership." The Heritage committee report, which was released 22 months to the day after the first committee proceeding on the issue, follows on the heels of another Parliamentary committee’s review of foreign investment rules in the telecommunications sector (NL, May 6/03). The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology did not make major recommendations on the future of the commission. "Our conclusion was very clear that the CRTC, not perfect, is doing a good job and is respected by many other countries’ regulators as being one of the best," Industry committee chair Walt Lastewka tells Network Letter. "So we decided not to make further comments on that other than to review the mandate." One area where the two Parliamentary committees found common ground was on the establishment of a Department of Communications that would combine the responsibilities currently divided between Industry Canada and Canadian Heritage. The Heritage committee report notes that such a ministry had been formed in 1968, at the same time the CRTC was created. The arrangement worked well, it states, and should be re-instituted. That must lead to a re-examination of the enabling legislation, the study concludes. "ne of the first activities of the new department should be to investigate the benefits to be gained from having one piece of legislation that covers communications, telecommunications, broadcasting and their regulation. Indeed, the committee is of the view that there could be great benefits from having a comprehensive piece of legislation that deals with these areas. Therefore the committee recommends that the government consider whether a comprehensive communications Act is required to integrate the existing Broadcasting Act, Telecommunications Act and Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Act into one piece of legislation." The politicians raise concerns about the perceived coziness between the regulators and the regulated. They point out that the commissioners and senior CRTC staff come from industry or law firms involved in the regulations. When their terms are up, these people move back into the regulated sector, after sitting out of direct conflict for one year. The MPs concede that the talent pool is small and that the knowledge and experience needed by the CRTC is quite specific. Nonetheless, they are seeking an extension of the cooling-off period."The committee recommends that to avoid an actual or potential conflict of interest or unfair advantage or the appearance of it, a person who resigns or otherwise ceases to hold office as a member or senior staff employee of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission shall not hold a paid or unpaid position within an industry regulated by the CRTC for a period of two years after their employment or membership ceases," reads one of 97 recommendations in the report. "This requirement shall be made a condition of commission employment or membership. During this time, they should receive up to 75% of their regular salary if they are unable to find suitable employment other than in the broadcast industry." One member of the committee thought his colleagues were too shortsighted in their approach. Vice-chair Jim Abbott filed a dissent from the main report. "Too often, the CRTC acts as a law unto itself. Commissioners are appointed without any oversight or public hearings as to their qualifications. CRTC decisions are virtually without appeal. Tinkering with the CRTC is not the answer," the Canadian Alliance MP writes. "It is vital that the regulator be made more accountable to Canadians. This could be accomplished through the following measures: require Parliamentary hearings and a ratification vote on the appointment of the regulator’s commissioners; consider an independent appeal tribunal that could review the regulator’s decision; task a sub-committee of the appropriate House committee to regularly review the laws, rules, policies and practices of the regulator to ensure fair competition and correspond with the interests of Canadians." Foreign investment splitThe major split between the Heritage and Industry committees is on the subject of foreign ownership. The industry committee advocated removing all restrictions to outside capital in the telecom sector. It also recommended that broadcast distributors such as cablecos, but not content providers, be included in the new regime. The Heritage committee rejects that approach in its report. "The Heritage committee strongly disagrees with the recommendations on foreign ownership made by the Industry committee. The main arguments presented in the industry committee’s report are economic. It argues that freer access to foreign investment will allow for more competition in the telecommunications sector and that this will benefit consumers," the study says, noting that some witnesses asserted there is a cultural component in investment rules that has been ignored. "The committee agrees with this perspective and sees the Industry committee’s recommendations to be an extremely simplistic approach to a complex set of issues. In particular, its report ignores the many public policy and cultural issues that are at the heart of the matter." Abbott also dissents from this view. He reiterates his party’s support for opening up access to capital in telecom and broadcasting."Allowing Bell and other tele-communication companies access to foreign capital while freezing access to other broadcast distributors would be illogical," the British Columbia MP writes.