Act updated to keep pace with new radio uses

by Marie Patterson



David Dawson, Regulatory Policy Analyst

and Elizabeth Gilhooly of Legal Services

admire the fruits of their labours

- the new Radiocommunications Bill.

Absent from the photo are

Eve Poulin, also of Legal Services,

and David Townsend, formerly with the Department and now a professor of law

at the University of New Brunswick.


The legislation which governed Canada's airwaves in the era of the 1930s' radio series The Happy Gang is sadly out-of-date when it comes to regulating the thousands of other uses radio now has, regulators say.

Radio waves are now used in satellite transmissions, radar, navigation systems and a host of other applications.


As a result of several years of work to update the rules, Communications Minister Marcel Masse tabled the new Radiocommunications Bill in the House of Commons April 12. It is the first major revision to the Radio Act since it was passed in 1938.


"After 50 years, it's timely to look at why an act was in place and do a general housecleaning of it in order to accommodate new technology," says David Dawson, Regulatory Policy Analyst in ADMSR, who worked on the Bill. "Nobody leaves anything lying about for that long."


The Radio Act promotes the orderly use and efficient development of radiocommunications in Canada. The Act enables the Department to facilitate access to the radio frequency spectrum and to maintain its usefulness by minimizing interference and wasteful use.

The original legislation did not effectively prohibit the use of substandard equipment. Under the new bill, the emphasis is on preventing substandard equipment from being sold in the first allowed to regulate manufacturers, importers and distributors of radio-sensitive equipment that is liable to malfunction in the presence of radio interference.


This equipment includes a wide range of products, such as heart pacemakers, computers, railway crossing gates and stereos. The Department can ensure these devices meet electromagnetic immunity standards; that is, that they are designed to reject radio interference and continue to operate normally.


Dawson says the Department gets many calls each year from people complaining about equipment malfunctioning or picking up an unwanted radio signal, for example.


"Most of this involves badly designed equipment," said Robert Gordon, Assistant Deputy Minister, Spectrum Management and Regional Operations, in an interview with CBC Radio. "This is becoming more and more prevalent and, like many other governments, we are putting ourselves in a position to act when we have to."


"There are portions of the radiocommunications industry that were not even thought of, not even written about in science-fiction, when this act was proclaimed."


He emphasized that Canada must keep up with the legislation of other countries. "We wouldn't want to be the one country that wasn't paying attention to the problem, or be a place where people can easily dump sub­standard equipment."


The Bill will reflect changes in technology since the Radio Act was passed in 1938, by making it possible to drop the licensing requirement for many types of equipment. Consumer devices such as real estate "talking signs," locator bracelets for hospital patients and home entertainment equipment with wireless components technically should be licensed according to the present act, although in practice that is rarely necessary.


"There are large portions of the radiocommunications industry today that were not even thought of, not even written about in science fiction, in 1938 when this act was proclaimed," Dawson adds. These include everything from communication satellites and emergency marine radio to garage door openers and radio­operated toys.


Because radio technology touches on so many facets of everyday life, and because much of its use spans international borders, the need for up-to-date legislation is crucial, Dawson points out.


Since 1938, the International Radio Regulations of the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations regulatory agency under which all countries operate, have been revised and updated more than 20 times.


"Radio saves time, lives and money. I think that underlines the place of radiocommunications in our society," says Dawson. "It never receives a great deal of attention until some rare mistake occurs, such as a plane losing contact with the control tower.


"Because it is a regulated industry and an industry that has responded very well to guidelines, we have been able to work with a statute that is pretty obsolete. There comes a time, though, when you just can't repair the old car anymore. You have to trade it and get a new one," says Dawson.


"Radio never receives a great deal of attention until some rare mistake occurs, such as a plane losing contact with the control tower."


The new name for the Bill - Radiocommunications instead of simply Radio - reflects the legislation's wider scope and also helps to differentiate it from the Broadcasting Act. The Radiocommunications Bill is concerned with the application of radiocommunications technology and devices, devices that use radio waves or the radio frequency spectrum, AM TV and FM broadcasting included, whereas the Broadcasting Act deals with content.


The Radiocommunications Bill will also give the Minister the power to seek a court injunction to end harmful or potentially harmful interference to safety radio communications, such as police and fire communications.


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