The government’s public consultation on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has stopped in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal in recent weeks as a growing number of people speak out on the agreement. Tens of thousands have also written to the government on the issue with some beginning to consider trade strategy alternatives.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues that the interest in other trade options stems from three developments. First, the TPP may not have sufficient support to take effect since under the terms of agreement both Japan and the United States must be among the ratifying countries. Implementation has been delayed in Japan where politicians fear a political backlash and seems increasingly unlikely in the U.S., where the remaining presidential candidates have tried to outdo one another in their opposition to the deal.
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For the first six months of the new Liberal government, telecom watchers were unsure about whether Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, would maintain the pro-consumer and competition approach that typified the previous government. The Bains ministerial mandate letter referenced the importance of competition, choice, and investment in communications, leaving enough wiggle room to shift in a new direction.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the full policy remains a mystery, but developments over the past two weeks suggest that a major change in approach is unlikely. With several big issues still to be decided – a plan for universal broadband access and review of the proposed Bell acquisition of MTS among them – getting a better sense of government policy is essential for business and consumers.
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Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly’s digital CanCon consultation is likely to spark calls from the cultural establishment for new levies and taxes to fund the creation of domestic content. The Internet will be the primary target with demands for a Netflix tax along with legislative reforms that would open the door to additional fees on Internet providers.
Yet an unimaginative approach that seeks to regulate the Internet imposes costs that would make Internet access less affordable and create a regulatory environment that runs counter to fundamental principles of freedom of speech and access to information. Joly should reject efforts to recycle stale policies and instead embrace the opportunity to shake up Canadian cultural policy.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues that the starting point should be a shift in funding for Canadian content creation. The current model, which relies heavily on mandatory contributions from the Canadian broadcasting community, is in decline as revenues from the sector slowly shrink (the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission recently reported that conventional television revenues declined by 2.4 per cent in 2015).
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Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly surprised culture and Internet watchers last week by announcing plans for a comprehensive review of Canadian content policies in a digital world. Joly says everything is on the table including broadcasting regulation, Cancon funding mechanisms, copyright law, the role of the CBC, and the future of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
While there is little doubt that the current framework was established for a different era, rules that have sheltered the industry from foreign competition and transferred hundreds of millions of dollars from consumers to creator groups will not disappear without a fight. Indeed, my weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) warns that the most common refrain from the Canadian cultural community is likely to be that the existing rules should be extended to the Internet.
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With one week still remaining in the federal telecommunications regulator’s hearing focused on the state of Internet access in Canada, the process has taken a surprising turn that ultimately cries out for leadership from Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.
Jean-Pierre Blair, chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), opened the hearing two weeks ago with a warning: even if an ideal speed target could be identified, there was no guarantee of regulatory action. Blais urged participants not to confuse “wants” with “needs”, a framing that suggested the goal of the hearing was to identify the bare minimum Internet service required by Canadians.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the remarks attracted immediate headlines that the Commission would not guarantee basic Internet speeds. The CRTC insists that only comments on the public record count, but it is obvious that the commissioners pay close attention to media commentary and social media postings.
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