The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission last week announced much-anticipated plans to require cable and satellite companies to offer consumers basic television packages for an affordable $25 per month alongside the option of picking the television channels they want without requiring them to purchase expensive bundles.
Despite some hand wringing that the changes will lead to reduced revenues for broadcasters, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that it is readily apparent that the CRTC is committed to reducing or eliminating outdated regulations in the hope of fostering a more competitive broadcast environment. Consumer choice for television channels, greater flexibility for broadcaster programming, adjustments to Canadian content requirements, and the enforcement of net neutrality rules all fall within the same broader strategy of exercising its regulatory muscle to enable a level playing field and encourage the development of globally competitive content.
What makes the latest CRTC decision particularly notable is that it identifies a new threat to a competitive broadcast environment. Much to the chagrin of many within the Canadian system, it isn’t Netflix. In recent months, seemingly everyone has had a turn taking shots at the enormously popular online video service: the Government of Ontario has called for a Netflix tax, Bell Media has asked for measures to block access to the U.S. service, and many creator groups have urged the CRTC to adopt new regulations for online media.
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The prospect of a “Netflix tax” will be back in the spotlight this week as Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission chair Jean-Pierre Blais unveils the CRTC’s latest round of rulings stemming from its review of broadcast policy. While it is unlikely that the commission will impose a new fee on Netflix subscribers to support the creation of Canadian content, it will not be for lack of lobbying on the issue.
Despite the fact that a Netflix tax would yield less than one per cent of the annual expenditures on Canadian television financing (about $15 million dollars in support for a sector that spent $2.3 billion last year), most content groups called for mandatory Canadian content contribution funding from online video providers during the CRTC’s TalkTV hearings. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that amidst the clamour for new funding, there was one voice that attracted the most attention – the Government of Ontario.
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Last fall, Daniel Therrien, the government’s newly appointed Privacy Commissioner of Canada, released the annual report on the Privacy Act, the legislation that governs how government collects, uses, and discloses personal information. The lead story from the report was the result of an audit of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police practices regarding warrantless requests for telecom subscriber information.
The audit had been expected to shed new light into RCMP information requests. Auditors were forced to terminate the investigation, however, when they realized that Canada’s national police force simply did not compile the requested information. When asked why the information was not collected, RCMP officials responded that its information management system was never designed to capture access requests.
While that raised serious concerns – the RCMP has since promised to study mechanisms for reporting requests with recommendations expected in April – my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) reports that documents recently obtained under the Access to Information Act reveal that the publicly released audit results significantly understated the severity of the problem. Indeed, after the draft final report was provided to the RCMP in advance for comment, several of the findings were toned down for the public release.
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The abrupt end of the Sun News Network – its owners pulled the plug on the all-news channel without warning earlier this month – sparked considerable commentary with many lamenting the lost jobs, others examining the quality of the content, and some celebrating the end of a service that was controversial from the moment it launched. Largely left unsaid, however, is that its demise signals the beginning of a new era in Canadian broadcasting in which services are allowed to fail rather than being propped up through regulatory or government support.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the Canadian broadcasting system has long been shielded from market forces through a broad array of regulations that offer both financial compensation and marketplace protection. Those rules have been a boon to broadcasters, who have seen some services succeed with limited viewers and original content.
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In October 2013, Bell announced the launch of a targeted advertising program that uses its customers’ personal information to deliver more “relevant advertising.” The announcement sparked hundreds of complaints with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and a filing by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre over the same issue with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that nearly a year and a half later, the complaints and filings remain unresolved. The CRTC case has succeeded in placing considerably more information on the public record, however, offering a better perspective on what Bell is doing and why its privacy approach falls short.
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