The escalating battle being waged for new Internet taxes to fund Canadian content does not stop with proposals for new fees on Internet access and online video services. Cultural groups also want to increase the “discoverability” of Canadian content by mandating its inclusion in search results. According to the ACTRA submission to the broadcast and telecom legislative review panel, it has been calling for search engine regulation for the past 20 years:
ACTRA stated during the 1999 CRTC process that Internet search engines would become the gateway for consumers to access the vast array of entertainment and information now available from around the world. We argued then the CRTC should regulate them.
It now argues for mandated inclusion of Canadian content in search results for cultural content under threat of economic sanction:
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The battle over the future of Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications is quickly emerging as a hot-button policy issue, with a government-mandated review of the law recently garnering thousands of public responses. My Globe and Mail op-ed notes that while recommendations from an expert panel are not expected for months, Canada’s broadcast regulator, the CBC, and several high-profile cultural groups are lining up behind a view that Canadian culture is facing an existential crisis. Among the ideas being proposed are new taxes on internet and wireless services, mandated Cancon requirements for Netflix and the prioritization of Canadian content in search results from online services to enhance its “discoverability.”
There are unquestionably real communications policy issues in Canada for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains and Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to grapple with: Some of the world’s highest wireless prices hamper adoption and usage, privacy safeguards have failed to keep pace with online threats and public-interest voices say they don’t feel heard at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) under chair Ian Scott.
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The Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review panel’s surprising decision to keep the 2,200 public submissions secret for months has had immediate repercussions. Some organizations are refusing to disclose their submissions until the panel does and others have noted the missed opportunity for public discussion of a vitally important issue. To date, about 30 submissions have been posted, a tiny percentage of the total. The decision has had an impact on university courses and predictably created an information asymmetry with some companies cherry-picking who gets to see their submission.
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The deadline for submissions to the government’s Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel passed last week. I posted my submission yesterday, joined by several other organizations representing differing perspectives (CRTC, CBC, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, Writers Guild of Canada, Internet Society Canada Chapter, CMCRP). However, public availability of submissions will apparently be the exception for the foreseeable future. The panel has rejected an open and transparent policy making process in which public submissions are publicly available, choosing instead to keep the submissions secret for months.
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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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