CRTC to meet industry on digital broadcasting

The CRTC is seeking input on regulating digital services at a time when companies like Netflix are blurring the line between telecommunications and broadcasting.
Last week, Canadian broadcast industry groups held a meeting in Ottawa to work on a strategy for dealing with content providers like Netflix. ((iStock))

The CRTC is seeking input on regulating digital services at a time when companies like Netflix are blurring the line between telecommunications and broadcasting.

The CRTC confirmed to CBC's Spark Thursday that it is holding a round table forum with "key representatives of industry, academia and government," including senior officials from international regulators, on March 23 and 24 in Ottawa. Spokesman Denis Carmel said the CRTC aims to understand the "changing landscape of the communications industry" and would evaluate approaches to regulation in a digital economy where telecommunications and broadcasting are converging into a single world of communication.

The outcome of the meeting may be included in the  CRTC’s second "Navigating Convergence" report, which will be published in the spring, Carmel added.

Rogers has confirmed it is participating, Telus said it was not, and Bell declined to comment.

The Vancouver-based group, which has been lobbying against usage-based internet billing, is concerned that the meeting is by invitation only. "Without the watchful eye of the public, these meetings could become yet another big telecom lobbying bonanza," it said in an email sent to its supporters and to media outlets Wednesday. The group was not invited to take part.

The round table takes place as tension heats up between services like Netflix and Canadian telecommunications companies. Netflix allows people to stream unlimited movies and TV episodes over the internet to their TVs for a flat monthly fee.

Many Canadian companies that offer telecommunications services like high-speed internet also offer broadcast services such as cable television and IPTV. Last week, Canadian broadcast industry groups held a meeting in Ottawa to work on a strategy for dealing with companies like Netflix, which the Canadian Media Production Association perceives as a competitor for both content and customers.

The CRTC currently does not consider such services like Netflix to be broadcasters and they are therefore do not face the same regulatory regime.

Netflix hires lobbyists

Meanwhile, Netflix has expressed concerns about internet caps imposed by Canadian internet service providers, which could mean higher fees to consumers who use its services heavily. It recently hired lobbyists to take up its case. The online federal lobbyist registry shows Netflix has representatives who communicated in January with Konrad von Finckenstenin, chair of the CRTC and Jean-Pierre Blais, assistant deputy minister of Canadian Heritage.

A search for Netflix on the registry also brings up Shaw Communications, suggesting that Shaw lobbyists have been discussing Netflix with government officials. Shaw has previously asked the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to charge online broadcasters fees to support Canadian programming. Currently only traditional cable companies and broadcasters must pay these fees.