The CRTC’s TV survey is asking all the wrong questions

Just propping up the status quo

University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist had a post the other day on the CRTC’s new Talk TV consultation, a process designed to solicit Canadians’ opinions on how television services are delivered and sold. Geist calls the associated survey “lopsided,” where “the options presented to respondents are limited and skewed toward internet regulation for online video or supporting the status quo for conventional broadcast.”

I decided to take the survey myself to see what he’s talking about and, yup, “lopsided” may be putting it mildly.

The following question is a good example. It asks respondents if they want access to more American and international channels—and who doesn’t, really? The follow-up, however, asks if they’d want that if it meant paying more or if it meant that some Canadian-made shows—and therefore jobs—would be lost in the process:

Screenshot of CRTC TV Talk survey

That’s not just lopsided, that’s a downright leading question. Neither of those options are foregone conclusions, but they certainly are industry talking points in the war to slow down Netflix, YouTube and the rest with regulations.

There’s also a question about substitution rights, which are basically the culprits for Canadian broadcasters not airing American commercials during the Super Bowl. The CRTC suggests only three solutions to this thorny issue – the status quo, black-outs or consumers paying extra so that they can get those commercials:

Screenshot of CRTC TV Talk survey

Of course, there’s no mention of a fourth solution, which is none of the above. How about regulators and broadcasters figure out a way to do this without costing consumers more before some form of piracy comes along and eats everyone’s lunch?

The most worrying question is one that could hint at a torpedoing of net neutrality rules and a validation of the sort of anti-competitive services that some wireless providers are currently pushing. The CRTC is asking respondents whether they’d be willing to pay $5 per month to cover increased internet usage costs for a particular online service if it didn’t count against their data cap, which looks like a direct reference to a net neutrality complaint currently in front of the commission:

Screenshot of CRTC TV Talk survey

Of all the “lopsided” questions in the survey, this one is easily the most egregious because it completely ignores certain realities, such as the fact that Canada remains one of the only countries in the world where capped home internet plans are the norm (the others being islands: Australia, New Zealand and Iceland). The rest of the world seems to be taking in its Netflix and YouTube consumption just fine, with no talk of extra fees or regulation. And it’s not even an international thing—big internet providers in Eastern Canada are somehow managing to give their customers unlimited usage.

The one question the CRTC isn’t asking, and that everyone would like to answer, is: “Would you be in favour of regulations requiring internet providers to increase their usage caps or eliminate them altogether?”

The fact that regulators don’t appear to be entertaining this line of thinking—and the skewed nature of the status-quo-preserving questions themselves—suggests that maybe things haven’t changed all that much at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. For all the recent talk about how it has become more consumer-friendly, it certainly seems like the industry is firmly in the driver’s seat on this particular consultation.