Radio Tax in Canada: A Simple Guide

Navigating the airwaves of Canada has introduced a new tune—the radio tax. This melody might seem a bit offkey at first, especially for those unfamiliar with the concept.

Fear not, as this guide harmonizes the information, turning what could be a cacophony of confusion into a symphony of understanding.

Whether you’re a casual listener or a radio aficionado, we’re here to clarify how this tax works, who it affects, and why it’s instrumental in tuning into Canada’s cultural landscape.

Let’s dive in!

Is There A Radio Tax In Canada?

There is no specific “radio tax” in Canada. However, Canadian radio stations do pay licensing fees to organizations like SOCAN and Re: Sound for the use of copyrighted music. 

Radiocommunication Information Circular RIC-42 provides information on how to calculate radio license fees.

This is for renewable and temporary licenses for the radiocommunication systems operating in the land mobile, fixed, and point-to-point services.

For information on calculating radio license fees for radiocommunication systems not covered by this circular, such as public information, developmental, radiodetermination, space and earth stations.

It would help if you referred to the Regulations or consulted the nearest district office of ISED.

RIC-42 provides fee information and examples for two successive years.

By the Service Fees Act (SFA), ISED’s Spectrum and Telecommunications Sector updates its fees to account for the consumer price index (CPI) adjustment on April 1 of each year. 

Licensees must use the individually adjusted rates published on the Spectrum and Telecommunications fees web page when calculating or recalculating license fees. 

The CPI adjustment is applied individually to both the monthly and annual fees on April 1 of each year. 

Applying the CPI adjustment to the previous total license fee may result in a slightly different amount.

This issue includes updated fee information for temporary radio licensing and fixed point-to-point systems.

This is based on The Canada Gazette, Part II, Vol. 155, No. 7 (March 18, 2021), Regulations Amending the Radiocommunication Regulations: SOR/2021-40.

The Regulations exempt certain mobile stations in the aeronautical and maritime services, as well as fixed and mobile stations in the amateur radio service, from the requirement of obtaining a radio license and paying license fees. 

ISED’s Licensing exemptions web page provides additional details on exemption criteria for ship and aircraft stations.

How Does Radio Licensing Work?

During the authorization process, ISED can issue, renew or amend radio licences that allow the use of equipment and associated frequencies for the following types of radiocommunication services:

  • Aeronautical
  • Public information
  • Developmental
  • Fixed
  • Fixed point-to-point
  • Inter-satellite
  • Land mobile
  • Maritime
  • Radiodetermination

A radio license fee is the fee payable for issuing, renewing or amendment a radio license. 

Fee calculations are generally based on the monthly or annual fees listed in Schedule III, Parts I to VI, of the Regulations and adjusted annually according to the SFA. 

The license fee is the sum of all the individual fees that apply to the license. Licenses are renewable or temporary:

  • Issuance of a renewable radio license: The monthly fee for new, renewable radio licenses is based on the number of months from issuance until March 31, the end of the fiscal year. 

Although a “monthly fee” is used, payment will be required in one lump sum once the license has been authorized.

  • Example: If a licensee is authorized to begin operations starting July 10, the radio license fee will be the sum of the nine monthly fees from July 10 until March 31.
  • Issuance of a temporary, non-renewable license: The fee for a temporary radio license depends on the duration of the license (the period from the in-service date to the expiry date):
  • For durations of 30 days or less:
  • Temporary license fee = monthly license fee (even if 30 calendar days span multiple months or fiscal years)
  • For longer durations of up to 11 months:
  • Temporary license fee = monthly license fee x number of months for which the license is valid

If a temporary license spans two different fiscal years, the fee is based on the departmental fees effective on the in-service date.

Note that a temporary license cannot be renewed or converted to a renewable one. However, a renewable license can be transitioned into a temporary radio license before the renewal invoice is paid.

  • Renewal of renewable radio licenses: The annual fee for the renewal of a radio license is payable before the radio license expires on March 31 of each year.

For the sake of consistency, the fee calculation examples provided in this circular are all based on the monthly fee. 

To calculate the renewal fee of an existing license, substitute the monthly fees with the appropriate annual fees.

  • Amendment of radio licenses: If an amendment (to a license) results in a higher license fee, the licensee must pay an amendment fee.

This is calculated by subtracting the original monthly fee from the new monthly fee. 

If the amendment does not lead to a higher fee, no fee is charged, nor is a credit given. Fees generally increase when new frequencies, radios, locations or bandwidth are added.

Note that operating parameter changes can interfere with other systems, including those across the U.S. border. 

Therefore, licensees must inform ISED before modifying the radio station’s operating parameters, such as the station’s location, frequency, power level, antenna height or pattern. 

Licensees may also be required to submit a revised application for further review and approval by ISED.

Other factors can affect how the license fee is calculated, such as:

  • The type of station being licensed (e.g. fixed or mobile)
  • The type of radiocommunication service used
  • The amount of spectrum required
  • The number of frequencies assigned
  • The location of the operation

For fixed stations, the antenna system coordinates determine the station’s location.

A transmitter and its associated receiver are generally located at the same site.

However, if they are located at different sites and each uses a distinct antenna, they are considered separate stations and are licensed and charged accordingly. 

Different sites that are more than 30 meters apart are considered to be antenna locations. 

In cases where the applicant has two antenna installations on or in the same building, separated by more than 30 meters, ISED will determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether to authorize each site individually.

Duplicate facilities shall not be subject to duplicate licenses or fees when established at the same site for circuit protection purposes and when they have the same frequency complement. 

Facilities that are not duplicated for circuit protection but are considered on the same site will be charged the sum of the fees applicable to the complement of the radio apparatus located at that site.

In all cases, license fees must be paid in full before the radio license can be issued. Once issued, the license is valid until its expiry date. No portion of the license fee is refundable.

The following sections provide relevant considerations and fee calculation examples for radio communication systems in the land mobile, fixed, and point-to-point services. 

To facilitate calculations in the examples, annexes A to H provide fee tables based on the fee schedules listed in Schedule III, Parts I to VI, of the Regulations. 

All fees listed in these schedules are adjusted according to the SFA to reflect the application of the CPI on April 1 of each year. See the Spectrum and telecommunications fees web page for details.

Is Radio Listened In Canada?

Canadians have more affinity for their ad-supported radio stations than any other audio medium, according to research commissioned by the CRTC.

But if they had their way, the listening experience would be improved with fewer ads and a greater variety of local content.

The report is based on a survey and focus groups conducted by Ipsos, which polled 1,735 Canadian adults.

The research found that 68% of Canadians listen to commercial radio at least weekly, with 39% listening daily, more than any other audio broadcast platform. 

By comparison, 39% listen to streaming music weekly (20% daily) and 32% listen to CBC/Radio-Canada (16% daily). 

Despite the growing podcast audience, 22% of respondents listen at least weekly, with 48% saying they never listen.

However, satisfaction with commercial radio was in line with or slightly behind other platforms.

47% of respondents said they were satisfied with the listening experience on commercial radio, tied with podcasts and trailing CBC (48%) and streaming music (54%).

Conclusion

And there you have it—a complete breakdown of Canada’s radio tax, demystified and decoded. Like the final chord of a well-played song, understanding the ins and outs of this tax brings a sense of closure and clarity.

It’s an essential part of ensuring the richness of Canada’s audio content continues to thrive, supporting a diverse and vibrant broadcasting ecosystem.

So, the next time you turn on the radio, remember the role this tax plays in bringing quality programming to your ears.

Happy listening!

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