Later this week, a government appointed panel tasked with reviewing Canada’s broadcast and telecommunications laws is likely to recommend new regulations for internet streaming companies such as Netflix, Disney, and Amazon that will include mandated contributions to support Canadian film and television production. In fact, even if the panel stops short of that approach, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission chair Ian Scott have both signalled their support for new rules with Mr. Guilbeault recently promising legislation by year-end and Mr. Scott calling it inevitable.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes that the new internet regulations are popular among cultural lobby groups, but their need rests on a shaky policy foundation as many concerns with the fast-evolving sector have proved unfounded.
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Earlier this week, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault tweeted that he plans to work with Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains to amend Canadian law to ensure web giants offer more Canadian content, contribute to its creation, promote it, and make it easier to find. The tweet was consistent with the government’s platform and mandate letters that have been pointing to increased Netflix regulation for many months. While there is much to be said about the specifics of each of these regulatory issues – the wisdom of government regulating the Netflix recommendation algorithm, the false “level playing field” arguments, the impact on the company’s 6.5 million Canadian customers among them – it is important to go back to how this debate started with the claims that only regulation would ensure support for film and television production in Canada.
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Canadian digital tax policy has proven to be one of the most confusing areas of digital policy in recent years. For example, former Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly struggled to convey a consistent position, often alternating between the 2015 electoral commitment of no Netflix taxes and the mounting pressure to implement some form of taxation on Netflix and other tech companies. It would appear that the complexity of the issue remains a challenge, as new Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault issued as series of tweets yesterday that sought to clarify the government’s position. Yet rather than clarify, it highlighted how the government’s position remains somewhat confused.
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