When the CRTC decided the internet couldn't be regulated

It took almost a year of study, but in the end the Canadian broadcast regulator decided it wasn't its place to enforce rules for audio and video online in 1999.

Applying rules to the new medium in 1999 wouldn't further objectives of the Broadcasting Act

CRTC declines to regulate internet transmissions

24 years ago
Duration 2:12
In 1999, Canada's broadcast regulator announced after a year of study that it would not introduce rules for the internet.

It took almost a year of study, but in the end the Canadian broadcast regulator decided it wasn't its place to enforce rules for audio and video online in 1999.

In the decades since, the internet has evolved to include elements such as streaming services and social media, both of which are the targets of a broadcasting bill before Parliament. 

"The commission does not believe that regulation of the new media would further the objectives of the Broadcasting Act," said CRTC commissioner Françoise Bertrand at an Ottawa press conference on May 17, 1999.

Translation: "The broadcast regulator has decided it's hands off the internet," said CBC reporter Ron Charles for CBC's The National.

Self-regulation wasn't a problem

Man with computer in background
If internet providers faced regulation within Canada, they could just operate outside its borders because, as Ron Kawchuk said, "the internet is an international phenomenon." (The National/CBC Archives)

Existing laws could deal with "offensive or illegal" material, and the industry had already proven it could be self-regulated.

"There will be standards on the internet, but the industry itself has been setting the standards and policing it," said CRTC vice-chair David Colville. 

Internet service providers were skeptical that it would be possible for the CRTC to extend its reach to the online medium even if it had decided to try.

"The internet is an international phenomenon," said Ron Kawchuk of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers. 

He added that "a lot of sites, a lot of commerce, a lot of internet" could abandon operations in Canada and still serve Canadians.

'That's not fair'

Man in front of wall of TV screens
Michael McCabe of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters didn't think it was fair for the internet to go unregulated while his members had "enormous costs" associated with the regulations they had to follow. (The National/CBC Archives)

If the CRTC was going to keep its hands off the internet, some Canadian broadcasters thought they deserved to be left alone, too.

Radio and television broadcasting had "enormous costs" that the internet industry did not, said Michael McCabe of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters.

"That's not fair and you have to change that."

And the CRTC had not ruled out that possibility, said Charles.

"It can always ease regulations for the traditional broadcasters," he summed up. "So that if they find themselves facing direct competition from the internet, it will be on a more level playing field."   

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