My regular technology law column (Toronto Star version, Ottawa Citizen version, homepage version) focuses on the recent firestorm sparked by the broadcasting reform report commissioned by the CRTC and written by Laurence Dunbar and Christian Leblanc. The Canadian Association of Broadcasters characterized the report's recommendations as an assault on the foundation of Canadian broadcasting. In this instance, the broadcasters are correct. The report is indeed an assault on the regulatory foundation of Canadian broadcasting – one that is long overdue.
Canadian broadcast regulation was designed for a world of scarcity where broadcast spectrum and consumer choice was limited. This led to a highly regulated environment that used various policy levers to shelter Canadian broadcasters from external competition, limited new entrants, and imposed a long list of content requirements and advertising restrictions. As a result, a dizzying array of regulations kept the entry of new broadcast competitors to a minimum, enshrined genre protection so that Canadians were treated to domestic versions of popular channels such as HBO and ESPN, and firmly supported simultaneous substitution, a policy that allows Canadian broadcasters to simulcast U.S. programming but substitute their own advertising.
Yet today's broadcasting environment is no longer one of scarcity, but rather one of near limitless abundance as satellite, digital channels, and the Internet now provide instant access to an unprecedented array of original content.