The CRTC released its much anticipated Talk Broadband ruling yesterday, declaring Internet access a universal service objective, shifting the local voice service subsidy to the Internet, and setting much-improved speed targets of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload. The decision sparked a wide range of responses: Open Media labelled the decision historic, but business analysts largely shrugged, calling it “immaterial” and “neutral” for the telecom carriers. How to reconcile the competing perspectives?
From a big picture perspective, those that have advocated for a forward-looking Canadian digital policy that places universal Internet connectivity as the foundation have good reason to be pleased. The CRTC’s recognition of Internet access as a basic service is an important development that is long overdue. While critics downplayed the importance of the formal recognition for years, updating Canadian policy to include access to broadband Internet services provides an important signal to the market and the basis for further regulatory and policy steps if needed.
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The Canadian Heritage consultation on Canadian content in a digital world recently concluded and the department has now posted the responses. There are few surprises with many creator groups supporting Netflix and Internet taxes, while Internet providers and consumer groups oppose them (my submission can be found here). The Ontario government was the only provincial government to file a response. The Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport’s submission acknowledges that there is “no evidence of an overall Cancon policy failure that would justify revolutionary policy reform”, but leaves little doubt that the government is open to new Internet taxes to fund Canadian content.
The Ontario government previously worked toward a Netflix tax as part of the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV consultation. Given the controversy that generated, it is a bit more cautious this time but its support is not difficult to discern. Its starting point is that all industry players in the Canadian media market be required to contribute to Cancon. The submission states:
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Does the future of Canada Post lie in offering Canadian-based cloud services and rural broadband? The Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates thinks it might. The committee released a report yesterday on the future of Canada Post that ventures into the digital realm with several recommendations that will make little sense to those that closely follow digital policy in Canada. The committee report includes discussion that Canada Post could offer a Canadian-based cloud service, a Canadian social network, and rural broadband services. The recommendations include:
The federal government examine, with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the possible delivery of broadband Internet and improved cellular service to rural Canada using Canada Post real estate to house servers and offer retail services to customers.
While there is unquestionably a need to address the rural broadband access issue in Canada, there is little reason to believe that Canada Post, which brings no particular expertise and no money to invest in the actual networks, is the right organization to solve the problem.
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Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in a case that strikes at the heart of law in the online world. Google v. Equustek Solutions stems from claims by Equustek, a Canadian company, that another company used its trade secrets to create a competing product and engaged in misleading tactics to trick users into purchasing it.
After struggling to get the offending company’s website taken offline, Equustek obtained a British Columbia court order requiring Google to remove the site from its search index. Google voluntarily removed search results for the site from Google.ca search results, but was unwilling to block the sites from its worldwide index. The B.C. court affirmed that the order applied on an international basis, however, issuing what amounted to global takedown order.
The Supreme Court hearing, which attracted intervenors such as the Wikimedia Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as the music and movie industry associations, focused on issues such as the effectiveness of a Google-targeted order, where the responsibility for identifying conflicting laws should lie, and the fairness of bringing an innocent third-party such as Google into the legal fray.
My Globe and Mail opinion piece notes that largely missing from the discussion was an attempt to grapple with perhaps the biggest question raised by the case: In a seemingly borderless Internet, how do courts foster respect for legal rules and avoid vesting enormous power in the hands of Internet intermediaries who may ultimately find themselves picking and choosing among competing laws.
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Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly heads to UNESCO this week where, according to the Globe and Mail, she will be focused on making the case for a common approach on mandatory cultural contributions from companies such as Netflix. Joly states:
I’ve always said we are ready to have conversations with those companies and those platforms. We are already engaged with them, and will continue to do so. But on a general level, it is obvious that the more we are able to have a concerted approach among countries on this issue, the better we will be able to make sure it is a priority.
Joly’s goal would appear to be to develop a universal position at UNESCO that countries could then leverage to force companies such as Netflix to comply with local content regulations. I’m quoted in the article to the effect that efforts to harmonize sales taxes on digital services makes sense at a global level, but targeting companies like Netflix with new regulations or tinkering with the Internet in violation of fundamental net neutrality principles does not.
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