In the aftermath of last month’s CRTC’s zero rating decision, there have been several pieces in the Globe and Mail raising the possibility that Canadian cultural policy might benefit from zero rating Cancon. In other words, rather than rely on net neutrality rules (including restrictions on zero rating) to ensure that Canadian content benefits from a level playing field, perhaps it would be even better to tilt the rules in favour of Cancon by mandating that domestic content not count against monthly data caps.
The issue was raised during the CRTC zero rating hearing as Canadian Media Producers Association argued that:
the Commission should be open to considering ways in which differential pricing practices related to Internet data plans could be used to promote the discoverability of and consumer access to Canadian programming.
The CRTC rejected the argument, concluding that “any benefits to the Canadian broadcasting system would generally not be sufficient to justify the preference, discrimination, and/or disadvantage created by such practices.” In response, anti-net neutrality advocate Roslyn Layton argued that Canada should exempt Canadian content from data charges, an idea picked up by Kate Taylor and Robert Everett-Green.
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My post this week on the recent CRTC’s television licensing decision elicited a strongly worded response yesterday from the Writers Guild of Canada. My original post made two key points. First, responding to Kate Taylor’s assertion that CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais has offered no consistent strategy to the challenges facing the Canadian television production industry, I noted that over the course of the past five years, Blais has charted a very clear path toward making Canadian policy and regulation relevant in the digital age by promoting a competitive marketplace for Canadian creators, consumers, broadcasters, and broadcast distributors.
Second, I defended the recent CRTC decision on several grounds, including the need to address the gap between regulated and unregulated services (such as Netflix), the already-significant public support for Canadian content creation, the incentives for Canadian broadcasters to invest in original content, and the fact that Canadian broadcasters contribute a very small slice of the overall financing of domestic fictional programming which suggests that the harm to the sector from a further reduction is overstated.
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Last week’s CRTC decision on group licensing for the major Canadian broadcasters has the creative community in a panic, claiming that it could “mean the devastation of Canadian domestic [television] production.” The decision, which set a uniform spending requirement of 5 percent on programs of national interest (PNI, which includes dramas, documentaries, some children’s programming, and some award shows), means a reduction in spending requirements for some broadcasters. The Writers Guild of Canada fears that the decision could lead to a reduction in spending on PNI of $200 million over five years.
Groups have heaped criticism on CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais, whose term ends next month. The WGC labels him a “Harper appointee”, while Kate Taylor says “he doesn’t leave much of a legacy for himself” and that “his piecemeal approach offers no consistent strategy to address the challenges facing Canadian television production in the Netflix age.”
Blais may have his faults, but claiming that he has not had a strategic vision for the digital age is not one of them. He recognized that the advent of the digital networks, an abundance of consumer choice, and the effective removal of longstanding analog protections for Canadian creators would gradually reduce the relevance of the regulator and leave it with two choices. The first – favoured by the creator groups – was to temporarily prolong the protections by extending Cancon regulations to Internet services and increasing regulatory costs on broadcasters. The second was to jump on the digital bandwagon, gradually removing the safeguards and creating a regulatory environment premised on competition at all levels – creators, broadcasters, and broadcast distributors. Anyone following the CRTC broadcast and telecom decisions in recent years knows that he chose the latter.
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The federal government placed a big bet in this year’s budget on Canada becoming a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI), investing millions of dollars on a national strategy to support research and commercialization. The hope is that by attracting high-profile talent and significant corporate support, the government can turn a strong AI research record into an economic powerhouse.
Funding and personnel have been the top policy priorities, yet other barriers to success remain. For example, Canada’s restrictive copyright rules may hamper the ability of companies and researchers to test and ultimately bring new AI services to market.
What does copyright have to do with AI?
My Globe and Mail column notes that making machines smart – whether engaging in automated translation, big data analytics, or new search capabilities – is dependent upon the data being fed into the system. Machines learn by scanning, reading, listening or viewing human created works. The better the inputs, the better the output and the reduced likelihood that results may be biased or inaccurate.
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There is much to like about last week’s CRTC’s differential pricing decision (also referred to as zero rating) with recent posts from Dwayne Winseck, Timothy Denton, and Peter Nowak providing some helpful analysis. My initial post focused on the CRTC’s key findings and the new framework that will govern differential pricing plans. In addition to those rules, however, there are several additional findings that will have significant implications.
One notable aspect of the decision is that the CRTC has effectively killed proposals to create Internet-style Cancon regulations. While there may still be efforts to impose requirements on companies such as Netflix, the ruling ends the possibility of granting preferential treatment to Canadian content in the provision of Internet services. Columnists such as Kate Taylor have speculated about new regulations and the Canadian Media Producers Association promoted the proposal in its submission to the CRTC:
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