CRTC New Media Decision: Hands Off The Internet. . . For Now

The CRTC has released its 2009 new media decision (full decision here) and it looks not unlike the 1999 new media decision.  Days of hearings, thousands of pages of submissions and the Commission has side-stepped the pressure to "do something," by maintaining its hands-off approach.  It concluded that regulatory intervention would get in the way of innovation and that a compelling case was not made that additional support through an ISP levy was needed.  Indeed, the decision notes that "the Commission is of the view that parties advocating repeal of the exemption orders did not establish that licensing undertakings in the new media environment would contribute in a material manner to the implementation of the broadcasting policy set out in the Act."

There is at least one very noteworthy change to the new media exemption, however.  The CRTC was clearly troubled by allegations of undue preferences being granted by wireless providers (the issue raised by the Weather Network and discussed in this March column).  It has therefore proposed amendments prohibiting such practices:

The Commission proposes amendments to the New Media Exemption Order, prohibiting new media broadcasting undertakings from conferring an undue preference on themselves or another person, or subjecting any person to undue disadvantage. To provide guidance on the type of situation that could give rise to an undue preference in the new media environment, the Commission offers the example of a new media broadcasting undertaking engaged in programming distribution that acquires content from an affiliated programming undertaking either to the exclusion of non-affiliated programming undertakings or on more favourable terms or conditions than those applicable to non-affiliated programming undertakings.

Looking ahead, the Commission now plans to review this decision within five years, initiate a reference at the Federal Court to sort out the status of ISPs within the Broadcasting Act (there were competing legal opinions on whether ISPs qualify as broadcasters under the Act), and it has called for the creation of a comprehensive national digital strategy.  It is also extending the scope of new media monitoring by requring "new media broadcasting undertakings to report details of their new media broadcasting activities, which may include broadcasting content usage and offerings, revenues and expenditures, at such time and in such form, as requested by the Commission."

The decision also includes a powerful concurring opinion from Commissioner Tim Denton, who makes the case that the problem lies with the Broadcasting Act itself.  He argues that the legal framework must be changed, concluding that

The rights of Canadians to talk and communicate across the Internet are vastly too important to be subjected to a scheme of government licensing. If more Canadians were aware how close their communications have come to being regulated by this Commission, not by our will but because we administer an obsolete statute, they would be rightly concerned. Fortunately, good sense prevailed and the evidence for intervention was not yet present. But this confluence of facts may not always be there. Thus the call for a government review of a digital transition strategy is both wise and opportune. Let us fix this problem.

Overall, the decision to avoid new regulations and levy schemes is a good one.  Further, the intervention on undue preferences is both welcome and represents a potential first step in addressing the broader concerns associated with net neutrality.  The CRTC is the first to get criticized when it gets things wrong (or does nothing at all), but deserves praise when it gets things right.


  1. Nice to see they can get it right from time to time.
    Thanks for keeping us up to date Dr. Geist

  2. wow
    I must say that the concurring opinion by Mr. Denton surprised me. All over the Internet there’s all the ‘the CRTC is in Bell’s pocket’ type rhetoric, yet it appears that this commsisioner ‘gets it’.

    If only the CRTC ‘gets it’ when it comes to throttling, DPI, UBB and whatever else our duopoly have in mind as the Internet moves into the future.

  3. ISPs as broadcasters
    I can see where the confusion may come in. You have ISPs such as the cable companies and ones who also own, or are affiliated with, networks (for instance, Bell’s association with CTV… Bell is a part owner of CTVglobemedia).

  4. Devil's Advocate says:

    “Hands-off” = COP-OUT! = “Fuck the People!”
    I don’t see a whole lot to get optimistic about going on here, simply because they seemed to “get a few things right”.

    The reason why most people with a brain are reluctant to give the CRTC any “credit” is because they haven’t earned it. They consistently side-step every call to do something fair for the People of Canada, and prove they’re not just a bunch of Corporate Shills.

    Mostly, we’re just seeing the CRTC apply the same old “non-involvement” philosophy whenever asked to actually make some rules that may “unfortunately” not allow their corporate friends to enjoy their current lifestyles.

    The title of this article does say it all. Further on…
    “It concluded that regulatory intervention would get in the way of innovation…”
    This has always been the “logic” the CRTC displays on all internet-related things.

    This “hands-off approach” will do nothing to address the majority of Net Neutrality issues they’re supposed to be discussing soon. You can’t apply that kind of logic to an issue that has been so effectively highlighted mostly by the activities of the very same corporate friends the CRTC never moves against.

  5. Hey Devil's Advocate says:

    Learn to Read
    In particular read Commissioner Tim Denton words.

    It’s not the CRTC it’s the Broadcast Act that needs to changed.

  6. jvillain says:

    Yup, time to look at the broadcast act.
    I sent a letter to my MLA about a month ago telling him that, for what it is worth. The world that the broadcast act was written for just doesn’t exist in any way shape or form any more. The world of extremely scarce VHF channel space was completely destroyed by digital TV moving to UHF, the rise of cable systems and of course the internet. There is so much band width available that the Feds just auctioned off a bunch of surplus channel space. The idea that we need to make room to ensure that there is space for Canadian content is more than a little quaint.

    What ever happened to that review of the broadcast act that was commissioned last year?

  7. Pretty patronizing: “The CRTC is the first to get criticized when it gets things wrong (or does nothing at all), but deserves praise when it gets things right.”

  8. ISP vs Broadcaster
    The conceptual difference between an ISP and a broadcaster(read content provider) is that an ISP sells a delivery system (network access) while a broadcaster provides content. In the cable/sat TV system the content provider is also the broadcaster. Bell, or Rogers are ISPs when providing network access, but they are content providers when they are dns hijacking or delivering web-based services or Bell’s IPTV. Content rules should not apply to the delivery system.
    That being said, we need to rethink our legislation in this area. The future of Canadian content is not large-scale producers but individual Canadians who right now do not have the bandwidth to deliver their content to their prospective audiences

  9. How does this affect Bell’s throttling of independent ISPs?
    I would love to let competition regulate the market, if there was any. Currently my only viable option is switch to a company reselling Bell’s lines and then use clever tricks to defeat throttling.

  10. Is anyone concerned about the scope of the proposed amendment to the New Media Exemption order, imposing the “no undue preference” rule and a reporting requirement?

    It appears to apply to “new media broadcasting undertakings” but what entities fall into this category? Perhaps it only applies to companies already licenced as domestic broadcasters, but how can we tell?

  11. Devil's Advocate says:

    @ “Hey Devil’s Advocate”
    “Learn to Read…”

    What I said has every bearing on what was written.

    I know the difference between the throttling debate and this one. And what they’ve done is (once again) set the stage for another round of “non-interference” for their corporate buds.

    It’s the SAME ASS they’re kissing here that I say they’re gonna kiss later as well.

    Learn how to APPLY.

  12. Devil’s advocate
    The outcome is far from perfect indeed, but it’s far from the worst outcome. We’re fully aware this doesn’t make things any better then they were, but they’re not making them worst, and that’s already a good thing in my book.

  13. my2sense says:

    What are we paying for?
    What I get from this is that a commission funded by tax money determined after much time and money it was found that they are not needed. So they are going to launch another investigation to figure out if they are needed in 5 years. I wonder if I can get away with that. I will launch an investigation into government spending and find that I dont need to do anything but I do need to remain employed so I can figure out if I am needed in the future. I wonder if the tax payers would pay the bill.

  14. Devil's Advocate says:

    Why do we even have the CRTC?
    After more time and money is spent, the CRTC pronounces itself virtually unnecessary. It’s about time we took such a decision at “face value”, and moved to scrap the whole Commission.

  15. Devil's Advocate says:

    This kind of complacency needs to stop!
    “We’re fully aware this doesn’t make things any better then they were, but they’re not making them worst, and that’s already a good thing in my book.”

    This is a time when the CRTC absolutely knows they’re under public fire for being a useless waste of tax dollars that only exists to protect the Corporate Agenda. “Staying the course” shouldn’t even be an option for them right now. PROGRESS is needed!

    “Not making things worse” is NOT a progressive result. Anyone viewing that as a good thing is being unjustly complacent.

    The CRTC continues to avoid any opportunity to dig their heels in and justifying their existence, which only reinforces the consensus.

  16. I don’t like the CRTC to me it is a total waste of money but for once i agree with them that they should not touch the internet who would you think it would have profit if they would regulate internet ???
    big companies they (suppose to)rule as always.

    I like the fact that if i cant i can take a microphone and freely broadcast on the internet or webcast a tv channel if i’d have one
    success stories do exist in canada (without government money involved) and are 2 that comes in mind