What does and doesn’t stream over the Internet is none of the CRTC’s business
By PETER MENZIES
SOMETIME IN the not too distant future, everyone who subscribes to the Internet should have to pay more to ensure more secure jobs and incomes for Canadian content creators whose lives have been disrupted by the Internet.
That’s the pitch being made by Canada’s telecom and broadcast regulator to the federal government as it looks to review legislation governing the nation’s communications.
Ian Scott, chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), told a conference of international regulators last month that he wants to add a one per cent surcharge on stand-alone Internet subscriptions and have the money go to those who create Canadian programming.
Claiming it’s “not a tax,” he insists that Internet service providers benefit from the nation’s beloved Canadian content and therefore should contribute to the cost of its creation.
Noting that the average monthly Internet bill in the country is a mere $46 a month (yes, who knew?), he told the Financial Post: “Is 46 cents worth it per month in order to support the future of viable Canadian programming? The answer is yes.”
Actually, the answer is no – this is an unjustifiable violation of the sanctity of the Internet and an outrageous attempt to expand the regulator’s authorities.
What does and doesn’t stream over the Internet is none of the CRTC’s business. Its job should be upholding and not violating the principle of net neutrality that insists upon regulators and providers remaining agnostic regarding its content. This, and not taxing it based on its content, is what should be enshrined in any new legislation.
The Federal Court of Canada has already determined that the Internet doesn’t constitute broadcasting. The fact that carrying video is among its numerous utilities doesn’t make it television any more than carrying audio makes it radio or disseminating the printed word makes it a newspaper or posting images of art makes it a gallery. It’s the Internet – an actual thing that money-grubbers incapable of weaning themselves from the succour structures of the 1980s need to keep their lips off.
Then of course there’s the fact that the entire world has changed due to the current technological revolution. Not every business will, or should, survive this. As one young independent producer told me a couple of years ago, the new world means “we only make stuff we think we can sell to Netflix.” He’ll make it. At least he should.
Yet it’s the ones who won’t adapt to change that the CRTC has decided to support by transferring a funding burden that historically has been born by cable subscribers to those who subscribe to the Internet.
And that leads us to the ultimate reason why Scott’s commission has developed pretty much the worst idea in the history of bad ideas:
The Internet has disrupted everything. Entire businesses and companies (think Blockbuster) have disappeared. Others such as newspapers that were once robust and healthy are now emaciated waifs as their revenue streams have been swept away. So why not another “not a tax” for them?
Yes and one to help those bankrupt video store operators move along. And another over here for my friends in the travel agency business. Oh, and one for that fella over there? Yeah – the musician who can’t make money selling music anymore and has to hit the road constantly. How about funds for everyone – each supported by just a teeny weeny “not a tax” – who has had their business model disrupted by the Internet?
Apart from music, the CRTC is unlikely to get involved in most of these areas – although others will certainly be tempted. That it’s going down this road at all, however, and at a time of robust investment in Canadian film and television, displays an unseemly willingness to kowtow to the creative lobby.
Obviously the arguments of the producers and performers – like those of other strong lobby groups – don’t need to make sense. At least not when it comes to convincing Ottawa to give them access to your wallet.
Peter Menzies is a former newspaper publisher and vice-chair of the CRTC.
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