The government launched its telecom/broadcast review yesterday and the discussion immediately turned to Internet and Netflix taxes. Despite the wide array of issues ranging from net neutrality to the CBC before the newly established panel, for many the focus of its recommendations and the government response will ultimately come down to whether there are new Internet regulations and taxes established to support the creation of Canadian content.
Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly and Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains both commented on the issue, suggesting divergent priorities.
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The government unveiled the members of its telecom and broadcast review panel this morning setting the stage for Internet access taxes, Netflix regulation, and the imposition of cultural policies on telecommunications to emerge as a 2019 election issue. The new panel will be chaired by Janet Yale, who brings experience from both telecommunications and broadcasting to the role. The remaining six panel members line up nicely as telecom nominees (Hank Intven, my colleague Marina Pavlovic, and Monica Song) or broadcast nominees (Peter Grant, Monique Simard, and Pierre Trudel).
The leaked coverage this morning paints the panel as an effort to redraft broadcasting regulation with Internet companies such as Netflix and Facebook firmly in the government sights. Yet the reality is far more complex with terms of reference that touch on a wide range of telecom and broadcast issues. The Canadian Heritage perspective may be focused on broadcast and Internet regulation (despite repeated assurances that there is no support for new Internet taxes), but the ISED view will be focused on competition, consumer issues, and net neutrality. Last week’s CRTC report provides momentum for Internet taxes and regulation, however, the government has yet to provide much of a response. Indeed, the instructions to the panel reflect the departmental tensions with language that supports both sides and questions that touch on everything from consumer protection to the CBC.
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Copyright reform has long been viewed as one of the more contentious policy issues on the Canadian agenda, pitting creators, education groups, innovative companies, and a growing number of individuals against one another in processes that run for years and leave no one fully satisfied. Indeed, my Hill Times op-ed notes the copyright review currently underway before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology promises to run for months with MPs hearing from a broad range of stakeholders presenting perspectives that will be difficult to reconcile.
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The CRTC was long perceived by many Canadians as a captured regulator, largely inaccessible to the public as it dispensed decisions that safeguarded incumbents from disruptive competition. That reputation was buttressed by initial decisions on regulating Internet telephony, permitting Bell to engage in Internet throttling, and supporting a usage based billing approach that hampered competition. In recent years, some policies changed with the adoption of net neutrality regulations and the efforts of former chair Jean-Pierre Blais to prioritize consumer interests. Yet over the past few months, the CRTC under new chair Ian Scott seems determined to turn back the clock with a commission more comfortable with industry stakeholders and their priorities than consumer groups and facilitating competition.
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