The foundation of any national digital policy is affordable high-speed Internet access. Given the importance of the Internet to education, culture, commerce, and political participation, most countries have established ambitious targets to ensure that all citizens enjoy access to reasonably priced broadband services.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the importance of broadband is typically taken as a given, but Canadian broadband policy remains discouragingly incoherent and unambitious. The government and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission have different targets, while the government has established relatively slow speed goals that will still leave three-quarters of a million Canadians without access.
The inconsistent broadband goals are difficult to understand. The CRTC’s 2015-2016 Priorities and Planning Report target for broadband access is 5 megabits per second download for 100 per cent of the population by the end of 2015. Meanwhile, the government’s target will take many more years to complete and does not envision universal access.
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The competitiveness of Canadian wireless services has been the source of an ongoing and contentious debate for years. Last week, Canada’s telecom regulator concluded that there is a competitiveness problem, yet in a decision surprisingly applauded by many groups, declined to use much of its regulatory toolkit to address the problem. Instead, it placed a big bet on the prospect of a smaller wireless carrier somehow emerging as a fourth national player.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission began investigating the wholesale wireless services market in 2013. The big three wireless companies – Bell, Rogers, and Telus – argued that the market was competitive and that no regulatory action was needed. By contrast, new entrants such as Wind Mobile called for regulated roaming rates so that they could offer viable national services with more affordable connectivity wherever their customers roam.
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My recent posts on the government’s surprise budget announcement that it plans to extend the term of copyright protection for sound recordings generated considerable private feedback, with several industry sources suggesting that the change is not quite what it seems. In fact, despite painting the reform as an effort to protect the rights of artists, foreign record companies have been primarily concerned with eliminating new competitors who offer cheaper, legal public domain recordings of popular artists such as the Beatles, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones.
From a consumer perspective, there is little doubt that the change will lead to higher prices for music. Multiple studies on copyright term extension for sound recordings have concluded that public domain recordings encourage competition between release companies and drive down the price for consumers. The songwriters are paid either way, but the consumers win with more choice and lower priced music.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that while some artists have lent support to the government’s proposed changes, the bigger story is what has been happening behind the scenes. As new public domain-based recordings began to appear at major Canadian retailers, foreign record labels adopted a two-pronged strategy: intense lobbying for legislative changes to lock down recordings for decades and blocking royalty payments to copyright owners to keep the new competitors out of the market.
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As the negative coverage of the government’s surprise decision to extend the term of copyright for sound recordings and performances mounts (Billboard, National Post), it is worth remembering that it is Canadian consumers that will bear the costs with decreased choice and increased prices. I touch on this in my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version), but a more detailed discussion is warranted (see here, here, and here for previous posts on the proposed extension).
The question of competition and consumer costs was addressed in several leading European reports on intellectual property and term extension. The University of Cambridge’s Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law reviewed the economic evidence related to term extension for sound recordings, stating:
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The Nova Scotia government has been embroiled in a high profile controversy for the past week following its decision to slash tax credits available to film and television production in the province. The decision sparked an immediate backlash from the industry, which staged a major protest last Wednesday across from the legislature in Halifax.
While the government’s approach is certainly open to criticism – abruptly cutting the tax credits without warning may force the cancellation of long-planned productions this summer – the larger question of whether it should provide massive tax relief to the film and television industry is an important one. Eliminating or cutting the programs is politically difficult given the star power associated with film and television production, yet a growing number of studies have found that film and television tax credits do not deliver much bang for the buck.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the widespread use of film and television production tax subsidies dates back more than two decades as states and provinces used them to lure productions with the promise of new jobs and increased economic activity. The proliferation of subsidies and tax credits created a race to the bottom, where ever-increasing incentives were required to distinguish one province or state from the other.
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