This March I wrote a highly critical article, CRTC Fails To Understand Wireless New Media Issues, about the CRTC's hearings on new media.
I closed the article by saying I was getting "worried about where we might be headed" based on the testimony I was reading from the hearings.
To my surprise, the Commission has decided to take a hands-off approach, rightly concluding, in my opinion, that regulation of new media would inhibit innovation.
"While broadcasting in new media is growing in importance, we do not believe that regulatory intervention is necessary at this time," said Konrad von Finckenstein, Q.C., Chairman of the CRTC. "We found that the Internet and mobile services are acting in a complementary fashion to the traditional broadcasting system. Any intervention on our part would only get in the way of innovation."
Secondly, the Commission was not presented with convincing evidence that would suggest additional support, as proposed, was needed for the creation and presentation of Canadian broadcasting content in new media.
Thirdly, given the dynamic nature of the new media environment, the Commission expects to review its approach within the next five years. In the meantime, the Commission will introduce a reporting requirement for new media broadcasting services to ensure that it has the best information available for future reviews.
Fourthly, the Commission will initiate a reference to the Federal Court of Appeal to clarify the status of Internet service providers (ISPs). The Court will be asked to determine whether the Broadcasting Act should apply to ISPs when they provide access to broadcasting content.
Finally, the scope of the Commission's examination of the new media phenomenon was limited given its mandate under the Broadcasting Act. The digital era presents many opportunities and challenges, which can only be addressed through a holistic approach. Many countries have already developed their own plans to respond to this environment. The Commission therefore fully endorses the National Film Board's call for a national digital strategy.
As if that weren't enough to make legions of Canadian internet users happy, the CRTC did make one major recommendation, as reported by Michael Geist:
The Commission proposes amendments to the New Media Exemption Order, prohibiting new media broadcasting undertakings from conferring an undue preference on themselves or another person, or subjecting any person to undue disadvantage. To provide guidance on the type of situation that could give rise to an undue preference in the new media environment, the Commission offers the example of a new media broadcasting undertaking engaged in programming distribution that acquires content from an affiliated programming undertaking either to the exclusion of non-affiliated programming undertakings or on more favourable terms or conditions than those applicable to non-affiliated programming undertakings.
This addresses the other issue I wrote about in March related to this, Wireless carriers cripple Canadian innovation in critical industry, where I discussed complaints made at the hearings about preferential treatment given to certain web sites and services by wireless carriers (the so-called "walled garden" of the internet on mobiles).
The CRTC got it right this year: where interference would inhibit innovation, they stepped back, but where it would promote innovation, they recommended intervention. That's the ideal part the Commission should be playing. I won't be so quick to discount their efforts the next time around.
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