The final day of the CRTC New Media hearings featured more discussion from ISPs, including Quebecor, MTS Allstream, CAIP, RipNet, Barrett Xplore, Bell, and Telus. Due to some scheduling difficulties, we are only able to provide a link to the CRTC transcript of the hearing.
Update: Greg O'Brien, the publisher and editor of the terrific Cartt.ca, has kindly offered to have his coverage of the day posted here. Thanks Greg.
|New Media Hearing: If it floats like a duck, is it a witch?
|March 12, 2009
By Greg O’Brien
GATINEAU – With the CRTC panel sounding increasingly like an ISP levy-for-broadband-Cancon is under serious consideration, leave it to Telus’ Michael Hennessy to bring peals of laughter into the hearing room as the final presenter at the CRTC’s hearing into new media and broadcasting.
The past three weeks have seen interveners and the commissioners themselves asking repeatedly, among many other things, whether or not ISPs are in some way, akin to BDUs. Because if they are, maybe they can be taxed like BDUs and contribute some kind of percentage of revenue towards the production of Canadian-made online content (ACTRA has suggested a 3% levy on ISP revenues, 0.6% for wireless companies).
After all, people are increasingly watching TV shows online through the pipes of Canadian ISPs (many of whom are also leading Canadian TV distribution companies) and in some cases, act a little like broadcast distribution undertakings. Bell Aliant, for example, offers 10 TV channels under its TV to My PC product.
Content creators liken them to BDUs simply because so much content passes through the ISPs pipe for the enjoyment of the end user. The ISPs, like the ones who appeared today, insist they are primarily just dumb pipes and there is no way to fairly tax customers for watching video when, in fact, they may not be. Plus, ISPs have been considered telecom services since 1996 and all of a sudden regulating them under the Broadcasting Act, is illegal, they say. The Commission believes otherwise and if such a levy is enacted, look for a Cabinet appeal and, if necessary, a court fight.
So perhaps it’s apt that Hennessy, vice-president of wireless, content and broadband policy for Telus, used a popular piece of content to make his point: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
“Defining ISPs as BDUs simply in order to tax them is complete nonsense and reminds me of the famous Monty Python skit about justifying burning witches because they are just like ducks. The premise is as follows:
“In medieval times, in order to determine if a person was a witch or not, they were thrown into a pond. If that person floated just like a duck, then it was fair to conclude that that person was made of wood. Because both ducks and wood float in water. And since wood burns (just like witches) then that person must be a witch, because witches are made of wood,” explained Hennessy, to the guffaws of the Commission panel.
“While references to Monty Python might seem silly in a regulatory proceeding, is it any less silly than the argument of the creative community that the majority of the traffic online is video and that broadcasting is video and therefore ISPs are distributors of broadcasting and should be regulated as BDUs? Certainly this is a creative argument but is this truly a reflection of the Internet?” he asked.
“Surely just because some transactions take up more bandwidth than others does not mean the Internet has become all about broadcasting and it does not mean that ISPs (the ducks) have now become witches to be burnt by illegal taxation.”
Quebecor, Bell Canada, Bell Aliant, CAIP and MTS Allstream all made similar points – but were nowhere near as entertaining.
The absurdity began a bit earlier in the day when, during the opening moments of MTS Allstream’s presentation, the building had to be evacuated due to a fire alarm. But after resuming, the commissioners appeared enamored with MTS’s expert witness: American computer scientist and futurist Jaron Lanier. His Wikipedia page says he is a visiting scholar with the Department of Computer Science at Columbia University, a visiting artist with New York University's Interactive Communications Program, and a founding member of the International Institute for Evolution and the Brain.
CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein seemed to think he had just the guy to tell him, finally, if it was possible to measure the amount of Canadian content on the World Wide Web, to know how much is out there because many of us say there is a vast amount. Others say no, there needs to be far more. But unless we can measure it, who’s to know how much, if any, funding is needed to make more?
But when von Finckenstein asked about the measurability of Cancon on the web, Lanier couldn’t give a straight answer – because there doesn’t seem to be one. There have been many answers to the chair’s question throughout the hearing. Some say it’s measurable, Others, notsomuch.
“The particular code designs laid down do not lend themselves readily to the type of measurement that is proposed,” said Lanier.
Plus, the web, as many have said, needs a fourth “w”, for “wild”. Once word leaked out that companies or government were actively measuring web activity, that could be construed by some as spying on users – and would subject the measurer to untold technical creations designed to undermine such a system, Lanier believes.
“It may work today, but very quickly everything will be spoofed and turned to nonsense,” added Lanier.
A decision from this hearing is expected in the fall.