The deadline for submissions to the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel closed on Friday with a handful of organizations such as the CRTC, CBC, and Friends of Canadian Broadcasting posting their submissions online. My full submission can be found here. I argue that Canada’s regulatory approach should be guided by a single, core principle: communications policy, whether telecommunications or broadcasting, is now – or will soon become – Internet policy. This emerging communications world is mediated through the Internet and communications regulatory choices are therefore fundamentally about regulating or governing the Internet. My submission identifies four goals that should guide Canadian communications law and regulation:
1. Universal, affordable access to the network
2. Level regulatory playing field
3. Regulatory humility
4. Fostering competitiveness in the communications sector
The executive summary on each of the four issue is posted below, followed by a list of 23 recommendations contained in the submission. In the coming days, I’ll have posts that unpack some of the key issues.
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Earlier this week, I appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Transportation and Communications alongside Carleton professor Dwayne Winseck to discuss broadcast and telecom reform. The Senate study, which largely mirrors the government’s broadcast and telecommunications reform panel, is expected to run into 2019 with a broad mandate that covers everything from affordable access to net neutrality. The discussion was similarly wide ranging with discussion on the failings of the CRTC, the lack of telecom competition, and on the need for real data in assessing the impact of the Internet on the cultural sector.
My opening statement focused on the danger of treating the Internet as equivalent to the broadcast system, the realities of how the Canadian cultural sector is succeeding online, and how policy makers ought to respond the changing landscape for communications in Canada. It is posted below.
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On the same day that I wrote about the overwhelming volume of hearings, notices, and consultations on digital policy, I also appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade to discuss the role of government policy in fostering the growth of e-commerce. The panel included eBay Canada’s Andrea Stairs (who argued for an increase in the de minimis threshold for consumer imports) and Peter Simons, the CEO of the Simons department store chain (who argued for no de minimis and the application of sales taxes on all purchases regardless of the size or location of the seller). My opening remarks centered on five areas for government action on e-commerce: access to affordable broadband, fostering consumer trust, intermediary liability, intellectual property, and e-commerce in trade agreements.
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While the media focus has unsurprisingly been on Budget 2016, the government has quietly moved to introduce copyright reform legislation that will allow Canada to implement the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. The notice paper for Wednesday, March 23rd includes an Act to amend the Copyright Act with specific provisions on access to copyrighted works or other subject-matter for persons with perceptual disabilities. The decision to implement the Marrakesh Treaty is long-overdue. The Conservatives announced plans to do so in last year’s budget but waited to table legislation days before the summer break and the election call. With that bill now dead, the Liberals have rightly moved quickly to revive the issue.
The treaty expands access for the blind by facilitating the export of works to the more than 300 million blind and visually impaired people around the world, which is needed since only a tiny percentage of books are ever made into accessible formats. Further, it restricts digital locks from impeding access, by permitting the removal of technological restrictions on electronic books for the benefit of the blind and visually impaired. The last bill featured changes to Canada’s digital lock rules that demonstrated (yet again) that the rules are overly restrictive and in need of amendment. The bill should be introduced as soon as Wednesday with analysis to follow.
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Statistics Canada released its bi-ennial Internet use survey last week and while much of the immediate reaction focused on the continuing growth of Internet use (due largely to increased usage by those aged 65 and older), my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues the bigger story is the ongoing Canadian digital divide that confirms the strong link between household income and Internet use.
Statscan reports that 83 per cent of Canadians use the Internet, yet a closer examination of the data reveals a significant gap that is closely correlated to income. Moreover, the data also shows that Canada’s high wireless prices now play a role in the digital divide, with only a quarter of lower-income Canadians using Internet wireless services.
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