CRTC asks for authority to regulate online service providers like Netflix

CRTC

The CRTC asks for authority to regulate online service providers like Netflix and Spotify, and fine broadcasters, among other new powers in its written submission to the federal government’s Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel.

Made public Thursday, the submission makes an appeal for “necessary tools,” arguing that many of the CRTC’s current regulatory mechanisms, particularly with respect to broadcasting, are founded in the ability to allow or not allow a service to operate.

“In the Internet-based communications environment, control over market entry has been greatly reduced. Future legislation should place greater reliance on other more sophisticated systems of incentives and obligations intended to achieve specific outcomes in more precise ways and place less reliance on controlling market entry. Similarly, more precise enforcement tools with respect to the broadcasting sector must also be available, such as administrative monetary penalties, which are available for the telecommunications sector,” the submission reads.

“A hobbled regulatory framework”

Citing what the submission calls “a hobbled regulatory framework,” the CRTC says the current system in which the commission serves as the ultimate gatekeeper as to who can access the Canadian market is outdated.

“A regulatory system that relies on impermeable national borders to achieve its goals and outcomes cannot effectively do so when content is received and exchanged through globally interconnected networks. The CRTC needs an updated regulatory toolkit to enable it to approach new players operating in Canada, regardless of their national affiliation, to maintain a strong and diverse Canadian broadcasting system that best serves all Canadians, as citizens, consumers and creators. Such an approach must be inclusive of all entities that operate in and derive revenue from audio and video content in the Canadian market, regardless of platform or national affiliation,” the submission states.

Citing its report Harnessing Change: The Future of Programming Distribution, the CRTC says a new approach should place emphasis on the promotion and discoverability of Canadian content from music, podcasts, and short‑form video, to feature length film, regardless of what platform it’s offered on.

“All stakeholders should be obligated and incented to promote and make content by Canadians discoverable, including government funding supports. Government should contribute to this effort as well through funding and tax-based supports of promotion and discoverability.”

“New legislation should grant the CRTC explicit statutory authority as well as flexible tools to regulate services, both domestic and international, including online service providers, who offer audio or video services in Canada and benefit from the creative, economic and social advantages of operating in this market. Such an approach would aid in ensuring that all players contribute in an equitable and effective manner to achieving the public policy outcomes established for new legislation, including the promotion and discoverability of Canadian content,” asserts the submission.

Data

The CRTC is also seeking increased ability to collect data from exempt services operating in Canada, both Canadian and non-Canadian.

“To be an effective regulator, the CRTC must have the explicit authority to collect information from all services that operate in Canada’s broadcasting system. It must also be able to publish certain data to allow the public and stakeholders to meaningfully participate in the decision‑making process. In much the same way as the CRTC can under section 37 of the current Telecommunications Act, the CRTC should have the explicit statutory authority to collect information from any relevant source, including regulated entities, to administer new broadcasting legislation. As the expert tribunal in this domain, an appropriate level of knowledge and understanding of the entities that fall within its jurisdiction is necessary to, for example, better understand how they make, acquire or distribute content or address the needs of more vulnerable populations.”

Access to passive infrastructure

Among other tools the CRTC seeks, is access to passive telecommunications infrastructure. Under the current Telecommunications Act, the CRTC has limited direct jurisdiction over support structures, public property and privately owned buildings and does not have explicit powers to resolve disputes, order access or establish guidelines regarding support structures on public property or privately owned buildings (residential or commercial) to facilitate telecommunications.

The commission argues that with responsibilities over access to passive infrastructure currently shared across multiple bodies and levels of government, inefficient access to passive infrastructure such as poles, ducts and rights-of-way for deploying telecom infrastructure can dramatically increase the cost of deployment or prevent it altogether.

“New legislation should provide a single regulatory body, such as the CRTC, with direct authority to resolve disputes, order access and establish guidelines (as appropriate) with respect to all passive infrastructure owned by utilities such as power, gas, water and local authorities. This additional authority should also be applicable to non-traditional structures for which access will be key for the efficient deployment of many future technologies. This would include light poles, bridges, water towers, street furniture and privately owned buildings such as high-rises and office towers,” states the submission.

Advisory committees

With respect to both broadcasting and telecommunications, the CRTC has general powers permitting it to hear, inquire and conduct research into issues falling under its jurisdiction. Limited to the examination of issues on a case-by-case basis, the commission says “to ensure it makes the best possible decisions in the public interest, the CRTC would also benefit from ongoing access to expertise and advice on a broad range of issues.”

It appeals to do so with increased powers to use advisory committees, comprised of experts and other stakeholders. While members of these committees would be appointed by the CRTC, they would operate independently—supported by CRTC staff—providing additional public forums for ongoing, issue-specific participation in the regulatory process.

Read the full submission here.

The deadline for submissions to the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review panel’s Call for Comments is this Friday, Jan. 11.