Coverage of last week’s Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruling on mandatory carriage of a couple of dozen channels may have focused on the future of the Sun News Network (no mandatory carriage that would have guaranteed payment from all cable and satellite subscribers) and the monthly cost of cable and satellite bills (a very small increase since virtually all new proposals were rejected), but the decision really represents a small step toward a complete overhaul of Canadian broadcasting regulation that is likely to unfold over the next ten years.
The Commission will hold a further hearing on how to treat news channels, telegraphing that it plans to adopt a must-carry approach so that all Canadians can subscribe to the news channels of their choice. Yet the entire process harkened back to a different world, when space on the television dial was scarce, access to Canadian content scarcer still, and consumer choice for broadcast content largely unknown.
The reality of the current environment is that none of these conditions exist. Cable and satellite providers have virtually unlimited space (my provider currently features a trio of channels that continually display a fireplace, aquarium, and sunset in high definition), Canadian content can be found through a multitude of venues including video-on-demand and Internet-based streaming services, and consumers can access broadcast content from anywhere on any device.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues the upcoming battle will not be about which channels benefit from regulatory handouts, but rather over whether there is a need for any broadcast regulation beyond basic principles of non-discrimination on what consumers can access through conventional broadcast and the Internet. These principles, now found in the Commission’s policies on vertical integration and Internet traffic management, will become an increasingly important part of the regulatory process.