OMG! CRTC!

For once I would like to record that the Globe and Mail editorial board and I seem to be dwelling in the same universe. Which is to say that anyone concerned with preserving broadcast television is in the same place as those seeking to preserve bookstores and music record stores. A noble cultural goal for some people perhaps, but not for enough of us to sustain the commercial model.

About ten years ago, I recall the son of Sam the Record Man of downtown Toronto fame talking about why people would always want to browse through physical  records. Just the other week in Ottawa, one of the best and last record stores, CD Warehouse, closed its doors. I mourn its loss, but I buy from Amazon now, and I am a dinosaur for still buying physical media like books and CDs.

Do we really care that we get our news from an advertizer-supported television channel? Are we not informed enough?  I go occasionally to Law Society conferences where broadcasting lawyers and regulators grin and talk of broadcasting’s mission civilatrice, whistling past the graveyard. Moreover, do we need to subsidize this particular form of news dissemination at the cost of:

  • the CRTC declaring that all full-motion video content is “broadcasting” and therefore subject to licensing?
  • that we can exempt ourselves from their licensing by
    • obeying their general directives as to taste, range of acceptable attitudes, and decorum, and
    • sending to the Canadian broadcasters a little mordida in the form of a “broadcasting exemption order fee”

I am surprised we have not yet heard from OpenMedia? OpenMedia.ca was the group that led the charge against usage-based billing in 2012. If usage -based billing was the outrage to Internet freedom because it priced bandwidth too high , what is this, which makes uploaders obliged to get a broadcasting licence, or obey an exemption order?

Apparently Google – that tiny little California hippy commune – considers the issue sufficiently important to protest the CRTC’s attempt at extending its jurisdiction to the Internet.

Michael Geist has some good articles on this dispute here.

Here is an interview with a former CRTC Commissioner on this issue by Don Martin of CTV’s “Power Play”.

There are billions of IP addresses, and millions within Canada. By contrast, the number of regulated broadcasting entities in Canada is in the low thousands. When you speak, or blog, or write an email or novel, you do not have to clear your work with the CRTC, the Jesuits, the Conservatives, the Department of National Heritage, or any authority whatsoever. You write or speak under laws of general application, and not because you hold a licence from the state. With broadcasting, you need a licence.

In the 20th century, the limited number of people who could occupy airwaves justified some control over them and what they said, because they held extremely valuable rights to “speak” to the many. That licence has become progressively less valuable as the number of speakers has risen to number in the millions and tens of millions, thanks to the Internet. No scarcity of voices, or Canadian voices, needs to be fixed or requires artificial protection on the Internet.

I keep wondering whether this conflict between the CRTC has been a deliberate provocation in order to offer the Harper government a convenient excuse to do something about the Broadcasting Act and the CRTC which implements it.

While I do not entirely discount this possibility, it is far more likely that the CRTC’s chairman just got sucked into a fight with stroppy little rebels like Netflix and Google. In any case, it is probably serving Harper’s interest to have this fight erupt at this time.

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