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Expert Review Panel dreams big for the CRTC, falls short for Canadians

Should the CRTC take on radical new powers to tax and regulate the Internet?

January 29, 2020 — Today the government’s expert Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review (BTLR) Panel released its final report and recommendations for the future of Canada’s communications systems. The report lays out an aggressive vision for an empowered CRTC with authority to register, tax and regulate the behaviour of domestic and foreign media platforms with significant revenue in Canada. Disappointingly absent were stronger commitments to meaningfully address the lack of telecommunications competition, despite the public’s clear preference for a more competitive market. 

“The panel’s recommendations raise more questions than they answer,” said OpenMedia Campaigns Director Matt Hatfield. “While we were pleased to see positive goals like universal broadband access included, the lack of specific targets or commitments for access was a real disappointment. When measured against the sweeping and specific powers proposed for the CRTC to tax and regulate, it’s clear where the panel’s priorities lay. All eyes will now be on Ministers Bains and Guilbeault to see if they will resist regulatory overreach, and instead focus on delivering the high-quality, affordable Internet their government has promised for all Canadians.”

Positive recommendations of the panel include expanding universal high-speed Internet access as a policy goal of government, and modest statements in support of net neutrality and privacy. Although the BTLR panel technically upheld the federal government’s promise of no “Netflix Tax”, its more radical recommendations would require media producers and distributors with “significant” Canadian revenue to register for a license, meet spending requirements on Canadian content or risk facing a tax, and ensure Canadian news and content are highlighted on their platform, in a manner to be determined by the CRTC. Whether Canadians would want the CRTC to take on such a role – or be comfortable with a global model in which similar bodies in other countries exercised comparable authority over Canadian content providers – is doubtful.  

The BTLR panel of seven experts was put together in 2018, with a mandate to review and make recommendations on Canada’s communications laws, including the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts. The panel received 2,085 letters and written submissions from stakeholder groups, representing the public, creators, and industry. In June 2019, the panel released its “What We Heard” report, summarizing the submissions they received. Today’s final report provides their recommendations for how the Canadian government should move forward in terms of amending our communications laws and systems. 

Over 9,600 people endorsed OpenMedia’s submission to the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review panel, at https://act.openmedia.org/CanadasInternet.

OpenMedia works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. We create community-driven campaigns to engage, educate, and empower people to safeguard the Internet.

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