The CRTC’s decision to require registration for a wide range of Internet sites and services that meet a $10 million revenue threshold, including podcasters, adult sites, and news sites, appears to have taken many Canadians by surprise. For anyone who closely followed Bill C-11, this was entirely expected given that the bill adopts an approach in which all audio and video content anywhere in the world is subject to Canada’s Broadcasting Act. I listed many of the sites that are now caught by the regulations back in 2021 based on an internal Heritage memo that identified many that no one would reasonably describe as web giants. In other words, this isn’t an outlier. Rather, it is how the government crafted the law with a “regulate everything” default and the expectation that the CRTC would establish some exemptions. But even if most Canadians were only vaguely aware of the exceptionally broad scope of Bill C-11, they might still have missed the regulatory process that led the CRTC to establish the $10 million threshold and acknowledge that this is the first step in a bigger regulatory plan. That is because the Commission intentionally limited public participation and rejected efforts to extend the timeline for submissions on the grounds that the issue was “industry focused and relatively narrow in scope.”
The background of this decision is important because it helps explain how a flawed process led to a flawed decision. When Bill C-11 received royal assent last April, the expectation was that the government would release a draft policy direction to the CRTC, accept public comments, issue the final policy direction, and then the Commission would start its regulatory work (former chair Ian Scott described exactly this approach in a Senate appearance). Yet only weeks after the Bill C-11 became law, the CRTC issued three public consultations with exceptionally short timelines for public participation. I described it as a “ready, fire, aim” approach with less than a month to respond to the registration issue and no final government policy direction in sight. In response, a wide range of Canadian cultural, consumer, and independent groups formally requested that the CRTC extend the deadline to allow more time for public participation. I wrote in favour of the extension in a submission.
Several weeks later, the CRTC issued its decision, granting a brief extension one on proceeding, but rejecting any extension for the registration requirement process. Given the timing of the CRTC decision on the extension request, it left just one business day to participate. One day. As noted above, its rationale was that the issue was “industry focused and relatively narrow in scope.” It added that it did not think the various proceedings were connected, stating it “is of the view that the issues and questions covered in BNC 2023-138 [broader regulation] are distinct from the issues and questions in BNC 2023-139 [registration] and BNC 2023-140 [digital media exemption].” Its registration requirement decision (2023-139) makes it clear that they are intensely connected with repeated references to November proceeding arising from 2023-138.
This is admittedly arcane CRTC administrative process to which few people pay attention. Yet as Canadians wake up to the implications of Bill C-11 and new requirements for some podcasts, news sites, and adult sites to register with the government, they should not overlook the reality that the CRTC chose to design it this way. It did not want to wait for final policy direction from the government and did not want to give Canadians a reasonable opportunity to have their say. This is the result.