As Parliament continues its review of legislation designed to implement the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Trade Agreement (CUSMA), I have had the honour to appear before both the International Trade and Industry, Science and Technology committees to discuss the digital implications of the trade agreement. While Members of Parliament have expressed concern with copyright term extension that could cost millions of dollars and restrictions on future privacy safeguards, the issue that has sparked the greatest surprise arises from a provision frequently promoted as a “win” during the negotiations.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes that the inclusion of a cultural exemption was viewed as an important policy objective for the government, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisting “defending that cultural exemption is something fundamental to Canadians.” The USMCA does, indeed, feature a broad cultural exemption that covers a wide range of sectors. The exemption means that commitments such as equal treatment for U.S., Mexican and Canadian companies may be limited within the cultural sector.
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The big headline story from the first week of the CRTC hearing into the wireless market was undoubtedly Telus CEO Darren Entwistle closing hours of testimony with a threat to slash investment and jobs if the Commission follows through with a mandated MVNO model. Entwistle told the CRTC:
There’s been a lot of conjecture related to disinvestment or reduced investment. It’s been a high topic related to what will happen as it pertains to MVNOs being introduced or another 25 percent price reduction being enforced, having already bettered the existing one that’s in place. And there are some views that this is just theatre perpetrated by the incumbents, in that if mandated MVNOs come to fruition or there’s an enforced second tier 25 percent reduction we will go on with status quo investing.
So one of the additional things I would like to file with you in confidence that I brought here today is a Board resolution at TELUS signed by all of our Board directors instructing management to pursue an investment reduction plan and a job reduction plan and a philanthropic giving reduction plan should these eventualities present themselves. And we’re discussing numbers where the reduction, and we’ll go public with it, but I’ll file with you the Board resolution, in the vicinity of a billion dollars of reduced investment over the next 5‑year. The reduced employment is in the zip code of 5,000 jobs over the next 5‑years.
In other words, in a bid to demonstrate that this was not theatre, Entwistle engaged in theatrics by pointing to a resolution from a board of which he is a member that supports his case.
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In the weeks leading up to the CRTC hearing on wireless services, there was no shortage of corporate lobbying, opinion pieces from telecom company consultants downplaying concerns about the competitiveness of the Canadian wireless market, and comments from company executives threatening to reduce investment if the CRTC mandated new competitions through MVNOs. Those claims have continued this week throughout the hearing.
Independent studies from around the globe have for years (here, here, here, here, here) found that Canadians face some of the highest wireless prices in the developed world. Yet if the usual claims of a fiercely competitive, reasonably priced wireless market provides a sense of deja vu, consider:
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The long awaited CRTC review into wireless services kicks off this week with virtually every key stakeholder – the big carriers, regional carriers, independent carriers, consumer groups, and many others – making their way to Gatineau to set out their vision for the future of wireless services in Canada. Elliot Noss, the CEO of Tucows, owns Ting, an MVNO that has carved out a niche in the U.S. market, but does not offer service in Canada as the big carriers won’t play ball. Elliot joins the podcast in advance of the CRTC hearing to discuss the state of Canadian wireless market, the role of MVNOs, and what he thinks needs to happen in Canada to make pricing more competitive.
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In the months leading up to the release of the Broadcast and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel report, there was considerable focus on whether it would recommend a “Netflix tax”, a catch-all term that has come to mean digital sales taxes, corporate taxes, and mandated contributions to support the production of Canadian content. The report contains a curious paragraph in its overview in which it claims that the panel is not recommending a Netflix tax. It states:
We want to be clear that we are not recommending that Canadian content be supported by the so-called ‘Netflix Tax’ – charging consumers an extra levy on subscriptions to such services as Netflix. It is more appropriate to establish a regime that requires such online streaming services that benefit from operating in Canada to invest in Canadian programming that they believe will attract and appeal to Canadians. This approach would ensure a meaningful contribution to Canadian cultural policy objectives and the production sector. It need not result in higher prices for consumers.
The reference to a Netflix tax in the overview is the only such reference in the 235 page report. It was likely included in the overview in the hope that media coverage would jump on the claim and seek to re-assure Canadians that there was no Netflix tax or higher prices likely for consumers as a result of the report’s recommendations.
Yet the reality for anyone that reads beyond the overview is that the panel’s report not only recommends what would widely be considered a Netflix tax but proposes perhaps the biggest Internet cash grab in the OECD with mandated payments and levies on thousands of Internet services with Canadian users.
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