Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly travels to California this week with an agenda that includes meetings with Internet giants such as Google and Facebook. Given the recent announcement in the budget that the government plans to “review and modernize” the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act, the discussions may help shape an issue that could have a profound impact on the Internet in Canada as there are concerns the government may attempt to shoehorn Canadian cultural policies into telecommunications law.
My Globe and Mail column notes that Ms. Joly’s consultation last year on Cancon in a digital world revealed there is a strong appetite within the traditional Canadian culture lobby for bringing policies such as cultural taxes and mandated Cancon requirements to the Internet. The groups claim the Internet is rapidly replacing the conventional broadcast system as a means of distributing cultural content and that the longstanding analog rules should be shifted into the digital environment.
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In the fall of 2013, Ben Klass, a graduate student in telecommunications, filed a complaint with the CRTC over how Bell approach to its Mobile TV product. Klass noted that Bell was offering a $5 per month mobile TV service that allowed users to watch dozens of Bell-owned or licensed television channels for ten hours without affecting their data cap. By comparison, users accessing the same online video through a third-party service such as Netflix would be on the hook for a far more expensive data plan since all of the data usage would count against their monthly cap.
In January 2015, the CRTC released its decision in the case, siding with Klass. The Commission expressed concern that the service “may end up inhibiting the introduction and growth of other mobile TV services accessed over the Internet, which reduces innovation and consumer choice.” While Bell argued that the mobile TV service was subject to broadcast rather than telecom regulation, the CRTC ruled that mobile television services effectively invoked both broadcast and telecom regulation, since a data connection was required to access the service.
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Canadian telecom company privacy practices were back in the spotlight this month with the release of a transparency report from Rogers Communications. The report provides new insights into how much – or how little – Canadians know about when their personal information is disclosed to government agencies.
For Rogers customers, the good news is that recent changes in the law, including court decisions that set limits on the disclosure of mass data from cellphone towers and that protect Internet subscriber information – are having a significant effect. Law enforcement agencies are still able to obtain data on hundreds of thousands of people, but warrantless access to basic subscriber information has stopped.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the latest Rogers report is the first from the company since the release in 2015 of telecom transparency guidelines that garnered support from the federal privacy commissioner, Industry Canada, and the telecom sector. The guidelines attempt to provide a common framework for disclosure so that the public will be better able to compare privacy protections and policies among Canada’s major telecom companies.
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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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The Trouble with the TPP series has identified several instances where promises about deal’s benefits for consumers prove to be largely illusory upon closer examination of the actual text. These include weak privacy protections, anti-spam standards, and e-commerce rules. The same over-promise and under-deliver TPP approach arises with respect to consumer mobile roaming. The TPP contains a large telecom chapter, which some governments used to promote as a key pro-consumer feature of the agreement. For example, the Australian government claimed:
Australia has successfully advocated for a provision that addresses, for the first time, the high cost of International Mobile Roaming.
The Canadian government used similar language in its TPP summary, stating that the TPP “includes, for the first time in a trade agreement, a dedicated article addressing the high cost of international mobile roaming.”
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