Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry today promoted the government’s plans for wireless affordability. The effort was largely an attempt to reiterate its wireless affordability platform, which targeted a 25 per cent reduction in consumer wireless bills by emphasizing more competition through MVNOs and spectrum set-asides. The renewed emphasis on the policy comes as an updated Wall Report finds that prices have been declining in some baskets (the long-overdue emergence of unlimited-ish plans a key factor), but not in the core middle tier of plans where prices remain high. The government states “Canadians have been paying more overall compared to consumers in other G7 countries and Australia” and noted that the government will track pricing on a quarterly basis starting from January 2020. Coming on the heels of threats from incumbent telecom companies such as Telus, it was good for the government to re-assert its policy objectives for the sector.
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Bains’ Other Wireless Affordability Problem: The Broadcast Panel Plan for WhatsApp, Skype and Other Internet Services to Pay Canadian Broadband Taxes
The CUSMA Culture Poison Pill: Why the Broadcast Panel Report Could Lead to Millions in Tariff Retaliation
As Parliament continues its review of legislation designed to implement the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Trade Agreement (CUSMA), I have had the honour to appear before both the International Trade and Industry, Science and Technology committees to discuss the digital implications of the trade agreement. While Members of Parliament have expressed concern with copyright term extension that could cost millions of dollars and restrictions on future privacy safeguards, the issue that has sparked the greatest surprise arises from a provision frequently promoted as a “win” during the negotiations.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes that the inclusion of a cultural exemption was viewed as an important policy objective for the government, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisting “defending that cultural exemption is something fundamental to Canadians.” The USMCA does, indeed, feature a broad cultural exemption that covers a wide range of sectors. The exemption means that commitments such as equal treatment for U.S., Mexican and Canadian companies may be limited within the cultural sector.
Higher Costs and Less Choice: Why Consumers Will Pay the Price for the Broadcast Panel’s Plans to Increase Costs of Internet Services and Sites
In the months leading up to the release of the Broadcast and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel report, there was considerable focus on whether it would recommend a “Netflix tax”, a catch-all term that has come to mean digital sales taxes, corporate taxes, and mandated contributions to support the production of Canadian content. The report contains a curious paragraph in its overview in which it claims that the panel is not recommending a Netflix tax. It states:
We want to be clear that we are not recommending that Canadian content be supported by the so-called ‘Netflix Tax’ – charging consumers an extra levy on subscriptions to such services as Netflix. It is more appropriate to establish a regime that requires such online streaming services that benefit from operating in Canada to invest in Canadian programming that they believe will attract and appeal to Canadians. This approach would ensure a meaningful contribution to Canadian cultural policy objectives and the production sector. It need not result in higher prices for consumers.
The reference to a Netflix tax in the overview is the only such reference in the 235 page report. It was likely included in the overview in the hope that media coverage would jump on the claim and seek to re-assure Canadians that there was no Netflix tax or higher prices likely for consumers as a result of the report’s recommendations.
Yet the reality for anyone that reads beyond the overview is that the panel’s report not only recommends what would widely be considered a Netflix tax but proposes perhaps the biggest Internet cash grab in the OECD with mandated payments and levies on thousands of Internet services with Canadian users.
The LawBytes Podcast, Episode 38: Debating the Broadcast Panel Report – A Conversation with BTLR Panel Chair Janet Yale
The release of the much-anticipated Broadcast and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel report late last month sparked a torrent of discussion and debate. The 235 page report – often referred to as the BTLR or Yale Report – features 97 recommendations that covers telecom, broadcast, the future of the CBC, online harms, digital taxation, and a myriad of other issues. Janet Yale, the panel chair, joins the podcast this week to talk about the report. Our wide ranging conversation touches on the policy objectives of the panel, the news regulation concerns, net neutrality, consumer costs, and what may lie ahead for communications law reform.
The Broadcast Panel Report and Discoverability of Canadian Content: Searching for Evidence of a Problem
The Broadcast and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel report places considerable emphasis on the need to support the “discoverability” of Canadian content. The term appears repeatedly in the report as discoverability of Canadian content is treated as an equivalent goal to creation and production. Given the panel’s view of its importance, it recommends that all media content undertakings (other than some news organizations) be subject to discoverability requirements:
The CRTC must also be able to impose discoverability measures on media content companies. Consumers now have access to an endless choice of content, making it difficult to find, or simply recognize, Canadian content. In fact, a majority of consumers have said that they have difficulty finding content they want to watch. Further, algorithms and AI-based processes have a major influence on program recommendations with a consequent influence on the discoverability of content.