TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's telecom and broadcast regulator, beset with takeover hearings and government challenges to some of its rulings, is taking aim at loud television commercials.
The regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, wants commercials to be no louder than the programs they accompany and will accept public comments until April 18 on how to achieve that aim.
"Loud ads on television can disrupt an otherwise enjoyable program and are a source of significant annoyance for Canadians," CRTC Chairman Konrad von Finckenstein said on Thursday.
The move is a change of pace for the CRTC, which is currently embroiled in several high-profile issues, two of which involve government challenges to its decisions.
The regulator is currently weighing whether to approve telecom company BCE Inc's C$1.3 billion ($1.33 billion) acquisition of CTV, Canada's largest private broadcaster. That decision is expected by early March.
It is also preparing for a wider review of safeguards against anti-competitive behavior as companies increasingly own both media content and the means to distribute it.
Furthermore, following heavy government pressure and a public outcry, the CRTC is reconsidering its ruling that Canada's big telecom companies can pass on their usage-based billing model to wholesale Internet customers.
Telecom analyst Iain Grant from SeaBoard Group said the ad volume issue will take the CRTC out of the line of fire.
"They found the one issue all Canadians can get behind," he said. "It was a cunning plan. This is a stroke of genius."
"Those esoteric things the CRTC has been grappling with haven't really resonated with the Canadian public."
Another CRTC versus government showdown is winding through the courts. Ottawa has appealed a Federal Court ruling that quashed the cabinet's overturning of a CRTC's decision to block foreign-backed Globalive from offering wireless telecom service in Canada.
The minority Conservative government has also come in for its share of criticism, with opposition parties questioning the recent appointment of Athanasios Pentefountas, a lawyer linked to the government, as a CRTC vice-chairman for broadcasting.
"More than the ties to the Conservatives, we're at a loss to understand the reason for the appointment of someone with no experience in broadcasting to the vice-chair," said Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Center.
Editing by Peter Galloway