The CRTC has moved a step closer to its rethink of new media, and last Wednesday issued a call for comments on broadcasting through mobile, the Internet and other technologies – looking ahead to public hearings set to start in February.
The process is intended to ‘further examine the role of broadcasting in the current new media environment, and what role this environment can be expected to play in the Canadian broadcasting system in the future,’ according to the commission.
Specific topics include defining what exactly new media broadcasting is, and determining its significance and impact on traditional media. Related subjects such as access to content broadcast over new media, along with possible funding incentives for creating it, will also be on the agenda.
The deadline for comments is Dec. 5. Public hearings in Gatineau will begin Feb. 17.
Since 1999, new media has enjoyed freedom from CRTC regulation to allow online and mobile technologies a chance to establish themselves. With this proceeding, that exemption will likely come to an end.
When the exemption first came into effect, it made little difference to broadcasters or consumers, since the nascent technology was incapable of competing with the experience of film, television, or even radio. Nine years later, things have definitely changed.
Broadband Internet and mobile technology have penetrated every corner of the country, offering access to high-quality broadcast content to nearly all Canadians. There can be no doubt that new media technologies have become viable broadcasting tools; what remains to be seen is how these tools will impact existing media, and in what way – if any – they need to be regulated.
Internet activists take a dim view of efforts at regulation, but Ian Morrison, spokesperson for the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, warns against seeing this process in a negative way. ‘It would be a mistake to try to frame this as the CRTC trying to regulate the Internet,’ Morrison says. ‘Their motivation is to ensure that the audiovisual Internet – the equivalent of radio and television online – has some shelf-space for Canadian content.’
The CRTC recently published the results of a public consultation regarding new media broadcasting, as well as a commissioned study that warned that any policy created for new media broadcasting could very well become the de facto policy for broadcasting on any medium.
The study also recommended establishing a fund for the creation and promotion of new media content, using money levied from Internet service providers the same way that the CTF is funded in part by cable and satellite operators.
Potentially also at stake is the important issue of network neutrality, which would ensure that access to new media content remains unrestricted by ISPs.