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Regulating internet content by Mark Goldberg

Feb 18, 2014

Source: Telecom Trends

The CRTC announced the second phase of its “Let’s Talk TV: A Conversation with Canadians”, inviting Canadians to complete Choicebook, a 30 slide interactive questionnaire with a series of scenarios that reflect the realities of the television system.

Some of the questions appear to indicate the CRTC testing whether Canadians might accept taxing internet access, certifying online services or other forms of regulation of the internet.

For example, Slide 27 asks “Should online services be required to provide closed-captioning and adhere to programming standards?” As a follow-up, the CRTC asks if Canadians would be willing to pay a few additional cents per month for online services to meet these requirements. In the preamble to these questions, Netflix and YouTube are cited as examples of online programming.

The CRTC asks if respondents agree with a perspective that “online services like Netflix are getting a free ride by not contributing to the production of Canadian-made programming”, enabling more jobs to be created and allowing Canadian stories to be told on all platforms. If respondents agree with this perspective, they are asked if they would be willing to pay an additional $0.50 per month.

Another question in that section asks:

    If streaming content from online services that meet the above requirements didn’t count against your Internet access data cap, would you be willing to pay a small flat fee of $5 per month to cover increased usage costs?

There are a lot of issues raised by this particular question. Exactly which “requirements” are meant? Is it all three of the requirements described two pages earlier in the Choicebook [closed captioning, adhere to broadcast standards, contribute to Canadian content production]? Is $5 really a “small flat fee”? Would this be mandatory for all internet access providers, or would it be a cap on excess data charges for “conforming” content providers.

The CRTC appears to be testing the concept of not all internet content being treated alike: streaming content that conforms to Canadian broadcast standards could be exempt from data metering; non-conforming streaming content would be charged. Is the CRTC considering a licensing process to certify internet content providers as conforming?

How might this work? Could the CRTC identify all internet service providers in Canada and impose a flat fee per subscriber to fund a streaming media fund? Content providers would be under no obligation to get licensed, but those that do might be able to draw from the fund. Still, there is a question of developing a good definition of who is an ISP, let alone identifying which subscribers would contribute. Does it include coffee shops? Internet cafes? Hotels? Airports? University dorms? Do smartphones with dataplans count as subscribers? What about data sticks and mobile hotspots? Business versus residence?

It will be interesting to see what emerges from this consultation. For the next three and a half weeks, through March 14, Canadians are invited to complete the CRTC’s questionnaire.

It’s about more than just TV.

The 2014 Canadian Telecom Summit, taking place June 16-18 in Toronto, will be looking at “The Continuing Evolution of TV: Content Anywhere, Any Screen, Anytime” in a panel discussion. Early Bird discounts are available for the next 10 days, through February 28. Have you registered yet?

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