A background report commissioned by the federal broadcast regulator concludes that new media broadcasting should have the same regulatory treatment as television broadcasting.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission asked Eli Noam, drector of the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information and an expert in telecommunications policy, to suggest policy options for new media, including internet and cellular phone broadcasting.
The CRTC, which plans to review new media regulation this fall, says it is not bound by the report's findings.
Noam's report, released Tuesday, suggests a funding mechanism for Canadian content on new media similar to the Canadian Television Fund, which combines public and private funding to back Canadian content on TV.
Canada currently also has a $14.5-million New Media Fund and a Canadian Culture Online program for Canadian content online.
But Noam recommends a new fund backed by a levy on internet service providers and by a spectrum fund that would force telecom firms to contribute towards content.
"This public funding would be created by a combination of public funds; an excise tax on ISPs and carriers that would be harmonized with the existing levy on cable and satellite TV providers, and the use of spectrum sales revenues into a special trust fund," he said.
He did not suggest a level for such funding, which Canada's cable and satellite providers have objected to in the past year.
Certain sites difficult to regulate: Noam
Noam recommends a harmonization of rules for broadcasting on television, and over the internet and cellphones.
He wouldn't impose new rules over content, but would ask the ISPs, telecom firms and broadcasters to be self-regulating in what they put on their screens.
He points to the difficulty of regulating sites such as YouTube, which has rules prohibiting pornography and violence, but still allows users to post video themselves.
Government agencies would be involved in regulating content only where there is a chance it contravenes the law, as with hate speech.
Noam also sees a role for the public broadcaster as a provider of content for the internet.
Net neutrality issues
He points out that Canada lags behind other G8 countries in its broadband infrastructure, because telecom companies have not opted to extend fibre-optic service right into households.
He said consumers should be given the option of paying for upgraded service into their homes and opting for the service provider and level of service they want.
Noam calls this concept "enduser sovereignty" and says it will resolve problems of "net neutrality" in which service providers jack up fees for heavy broadband users.
"Consumers become responsible financially for the last half mile from their home to the neighborhood node, and control what quality level they seek and whose content they give access to, without gatekeeping by an infrastructure provider or a charge by that provider for traffic on the last segment," he said.
The CRTC also released results of an internet discussion on new media regulation.
A majority of participants in the forum opposed public support for Canadian content and CRTC regulation of the internet, but believed there was too much dominance of the internet by international media. Most discussion forums had 50 or fewer participants.