Broadcasting content such as music and video distributed over the internet and mobile devices will continue to be exempt from regulation, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced Thursday.
The decision is a blow to artist groups who were hoping the CRTC would regulate internet content the same way it does television and radio to ensure Canadian content is represented.
It's welcome news, however, to internet service providers, who bristled at the notion they might have to monitor the amount of Canadian content on the internet and were opposed to the suggestion that a levy might be imposed on them to go toward a Canadian content new media fund.
In the decision Thursday, CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein said regulation was not necessary, because online media is not an immediate threat to traditional broadcasting.
"We found that the internet and mobile services are acting in a complementary fashion to the traditional broadcasting system," he said in a statement. "Any intervention on our part would only get in the way of innovation."
The commission found no new need for a new media fund.
The commission said it would also ask the Federal Court of Appeal to clarify the status of ISPs to determine whether the Broadcasting Act will apply to them when they provide access to broadcasting content.
The CRTC said it was hampered in its ability to consider all of the issues during the hearings because it was only considering digital media as it pertained to the Broadcasting Act, and not the Telecommunications Act.
Issues of ISP network management, for example, were put aside because the CRTC is having a separate hearing in July.
Von Finckenstein said a holistic approach is needed to look at the opportunities and challenges of the digital era, and endorsed the National Film Board proposal's call for a national digital strategy.
"Canada needs a comprehensive national strategy to secure its digital future," said von Finckenstein. "Such a strategy is essential if we want to maintain a competitive advantage in this global environment."
The commission said it expects to review the ruling within five years, given the pace of change in new media.
Cable firm pleased, performers disappointed
Ken Englehart, vice-president of regulatory affairs for Rogers Communications, said he was pleased with the ruling.
"The reason the internet has been so powerful and changed so much of our lives is because it hasn't been regulated and hasn't been taxed, and it's been allowed to grow and develop in ways that users wanted it to grow," Englehart said. "Government regulation and taxation would slow us down."
However, the union representing performers said it was disappointed with the decision.
"Broadcasting is broadcasting, and the CRTC has a duty to regulate it, whether it’s on a TV, a laptop or a BlackBerry. Failing to do so will mean less Canadian content and reduced Canadian presence in an era when we are already being submerged in U.S. content on our TVs, and now online," said Ferne Downey, ACTRA’s national president.
"Instead of doing its job and showing leadership, the CRTC is throwing up its hands and passing the buck to government," she said.
"We’ve already watched for 10 years as Canadian content has been submerged by foreign content. Five years from now will be too late. By not taking any measures right now to ensure a place for Canadian programming in this increasingly dominant medium, we can easily see a future where there won’t be any," said Stephen Waddell, ACTRA’s national executive director.
With the CRTC’s failure to regulate broadcasting in new media, it is increasingly urgent for the federal government to show leadership in developing a comprehensive digital media strategy that ensures Canada doesn’t fall further behind, ACTRA said.