Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly hosted a public meeting in Montreal last week as part of her consultation on Canadian content in the digital world. The media reports from the event included a focus on comments from musician Patrick Watson, who is quoted as saying that no one would be on the Internet if there were no movies, television or music. Reports indicate that the comment generated support in the room and from Joly. In fact, hours later, Joly tweeted out “thoughtful words from @patrickwatson ‘without culture, nobody would be on the Internet'”.
If that really represents Minister Joly’s worldview on the Internet, there should be little doubt that an Internet tax will play a key role in her future plans. Claims that no one would be on the Internet without culture is demonstrably false, but it is consistent with the argument that Internet service providers and Internet companies owe their revenues to the cultural content accessed by subscribers and they should therefore be required to contribute to the system much like broadcasters and broadcast distributors.
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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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The future of Internet access in Canada takes centre stage this week at a major hearing focused on whether it’s time to update the rules associated with universal access to communications services. Canada has long had regulations in place that ensure that basic telephone service is available to everyone, using a funding model that subsidizes higher costs in rural communities.
My weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that for most Canadians, however, basic telephone service no longer adequately addresses their needs. Today the Internet is widely recognized as the most indispensable communications tool, providing access to everything from electronic messaging to entertainment. While debates over broadband access have lingered for more than 15 years, there are still thousands of Canadians without service, owing to the lack of access or affordability.
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The long election campaign of 2015 has featured a myriad of daily policy announcements as the three largest political parties vie for attention and votes. From targeted tax cuts to new spending promises, political leaders have focused on education, child care, defence, the environment and more. Yet thus far largely missing from the campaign has been the most fundamental digital issue – universal, affordable broadband Internet access.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the Conservatives pointed to their spending on broadband in August when few were paying much attention, but that policy has done little to stem Canada’s steady slide in the global broadband rankings which indicate that Canadian Internet services are middling at best when compared to other developed countries. The opposition parties have said even less, failing to take advantage of consumer frustration by unveiling innovative policies that might address the issue.
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In the wake of nearly two decades of study, debate, task forces, and government programs, Canada’s telecommunications regulator has begun to unveil its blueprint for ensuring that all Canadians have access to affordable, high-speed Internet services. If the plan rolls out as many expect, Canadians in urban areas will benefit from a more competitive environment for high-speed fibre services, while consumers in rural and remote areas will be guaranteed access through a clear legal commitment to universal broadband service.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that part one of the blueprint was released last week as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission rejected opposition from large cable and telecom providers by ordering them to offer independent Internet providers wholesale access to emerging high-speed fibre networks.
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