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CRTC To Look At Broadcasting In New Media


June 18, 2008


Peter S. Grant

On May 15, 2008, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) issued a public notice indicating that it would be commencing a proceeding later this year to examine broadcasting delivered and accessed over the Internet and over mobile devices. This promises to be a far-ranging proceeding, with a public hearing planned for early 2009. The Broadcasting Act includes a broad definition of broadcasting, extending to video-on-demand as well as streamed audiovisual services. Given this definition, it is clear that much of the traffic on the Internet would now qualify as "broadcasting" – perhaps over 50%. And the quantum of video traffic is rising. The Act states that every element of the Canadian broadcasting system is to "contribute to the creation and presentation of Canadian programming." An issue that will be highly controversial is whether Internet service providers (ISPs) should so contribute, just as Canadian cable and satellite distribution undertakings currently do.

In 1999, the CRTC issued an order exempting broadcasting services delivered and accessed over the Internet from regulation under the Broadcasting Act. However, given the increase in the delivery of programming via the Internet, and the potential impact of that delivery on the ad revenues of traditional broadcasters, the Commission is now poised to re-examine the exemption order.

In its public notice, the Commission sought input on the issues and questions to be explored in the new media proceeding. But it indicated that three questions would be paramount. First, what is the scope of new media broadcasting? Second, are incentives or regulatory measures required for the creation and promotion of Canadian new media broadcasting content? And third, are there barriers to accessing Canadian content in the new media environment? The Commission also sought comment on any other questions to be considered within the scope of the proceeding.

The new media proceeding is just one of a number of critical hearings that are taking place this year and next.

In April 2008, the Commission concluded a three-week public hearing into its policies on cable programming services and cable and satellite distributors. At issue were matters such as "fee for carriage" (should cable companies have to pay over-the-air broadcasters for carrying their local signal?), must-carry and packaging rules (should rules requiring distributors to carry most Canadian program services be revoked or amended?), and content rules for those services (should they continue to be subject to scheduling and expenditure rules to support Canadian content?). The Commission is expected to reach its determination on these issues over the summer, with a decision to be issued later this year.

Next year, the Commission is expected to have public hearings into the renewal of the licences for the over-the-air television stations and networks, including CBC, CTV, CanWest Global, Quebecor and Rogers (which recently acquired the CITY-TV stations previously owned by CHUM). All these TV licences were last renewed in 2000.


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