On December 15, 2010, the Canadian government (then described as the Harper Government) celebrated the granting of royal assent for the Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act, Canada’s long overdue anti-spam legislation. The last step for the bill to take effect was to finalize the associated regulations. Passing those regulations ultimately proved more difficult than passing the law itself, as an onslaught of lobby groups used the regulatory process to try to delay, dilute, and ultimately kill the anti-spam law.
Nearly three years after the legislation received royal assent, Industry Minister James Moore today announced that the regulations are now final and the law will begin to take effect next year (the spam provisions take effect on July 1, 2014; the software provisions start on January 15, 2015). The finalized regulations involve further concessions to the lobby groups opposed to the legislation as they create a new exception for third party referrals (permitting a single referral without consent) and largely exempt charities from many of the new rules. The private right of action that would facilitate lawsuits to combat spam will be delayed until July 1, 2017. These issues were all extensively discussed and debated during the legislative process and there was no need for further changes.
While those changes are a disappointment, the far bigger story is that Canada finally has an anti-spam law grounded in an “opt-in” approach that requires marketers to obtain customer consent before sending commercial electronic messages.
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The government’s Speech from the Throne is set for this Wednesday with a “consumer first” agenda reportedly a focal point of the upcoming legislative agenda. Industry Minister James Moore discussed the speech over the weekend, pointing to a range of targets including wireless competition, wireless roaming fees, and the bundling of television channels that forces millions of consumers to purchase channels they do not want. Moore says that the government will require cable and satellite providers to offer a pick-and-pay option to consumers, though it is not clear which legislative tool they will use to do so. I wrote about the forthcoming throne speech last month, pointing to pick-and-pay services as a potential policy reform.
I also wrote about the benefits of a pick-and-pay system last year, arguing that the “broadcast community has long resisted a market-oriented approach that would allow consumers to exercise real choice in their cable and satellite packages, instead demanding a corporate welfare regulatory framework that guarantees big profits and mediocre programming.” This is particularly true of Bell Media, Canada’s largest media company that has been among the most vocal in opposing consumer choice. In a hearing before the CRTC that focused on consumer choice, Bell said that “we are dreadfully fearful of a penetration decline that would wipe out revenues that are necessary to support the obligations of these services.” It reiterated its opposition when asked directly, claiming “there will be a potentially dramatic penetration drop, and hence volume drop and hence revenue drop, as repackaging moves along the continuum to, you know, set packaging all the way to standalone.”
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On the same day that revelations about CSEC spying on the Brazilian government for economic purposes generated headlines around the world, the Canadian government rejected the proposed acquisition of MTS Allstream’s Allstream division by Accelero Capital Holdings, a company co-founded by Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian billionaire who first captured Canadian […]
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Industry Canada released the names of the bidders for its forthcoming spectrum auction yesterday with the disappointing news that no major new entrants will be using the auction to enter the Canadian market. That is rightly viewed as a big win for the incumbents, who should have little trouble acquiring the spectrum they want in the upcoming auction and will not face any new competition from deep-pocketed global wireless players. Instead, despite the persistent efforts of the federal government to convince new competitors to enter the market, the Big 3 will continue to dominate Canadian wireless services for the foreseeable future. With prices high by global standards and mobile broadband penetration lagging compared to other countries (an ITU study released over the weekend ranked Canada 32nd worldwide for mobile broadband penetration), consumers are the immediate and obvious loser for the moment.
Yet the incumbent victory did not come easily, coming at the cost of a scorched-earth public relations war with the federal government that the incumbents are already trying to downplay. However, having failed to address market concerns through new competitors, it may now fall to the government to shake things up through increased regulation. There are no shortage of options, with two big steps (the consumer wireless code that limits contract length and potential CRTC regulation of wireless roaming pricing) already underway. After yesterday’s release, Industry Minister Moore stated that “in addition to this auction, our Government will continue to aggressively pursue policies that ensure consumer interests are at the core of all Government decisions.”
What policies might Minister Moore have in mind?
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For the past two years, I have been describing the government’s long-missing digital economy strategy as the Penske File, a Seinfeld reference to a non-existent work project. The government’s Seinfeldian approach to digital policies continued yesterday, with Industry Minister James Moore hosting a Festivus-like event on Canada’s anti-spam legislation. The anti-spam law was passed in 2010, but intense lobbying has delayed approval of the final regulations that are needed to bring the law into effect.
The by-invitation roundtable featured most of the business associations that have criticized the legislation along with several consumer/public interest representatives. Consistent with the Seinfeld episode on Festivus, the 90-minute event opened with the airing of grievances, providing the critics with an opportunity to deliver their concerns directly to the Minister. The consumer and public interest representatives spoke in favour of the legislation and of the need for the government to move quickly to finalize the regulations. While the government’s plans remain to be seen, Moore is clearly engaged on the issue and, given that the law was passed years ago, will hopefully demonstrate a feat of strength by bringing it into effect.
A draft of my comments (which were changed slightly in delivery) are posted below.
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