Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The CRTC's Decision

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

May 19, 1999

Posted on NwsTrolls 19 May 1999

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced Monday that it will not regulate the internet in Canada.

"The CRTC will not regulate new media services on the Internet," making Canada one of the first industrialized countries to take such a stand, said CRTC chairwoman Francoise Bertrand at a news conference.

The announcement - which sent a ripple of relief through the Canadian internet community - is singular not only for its wisdom, but also for the process of consultation leading up to the report.

The CRTC is Canada's version of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Like the FCC, it regulates all aspects of telecommunications and broadcasting in Canada. It allocates spectrum, monitors content, and coordinates development.

In traditional CRTC hearings, a panel is convened, suits from the radio and television industry state their case, and the verdict is rendered. The process, although ostensibly public, is tilted toward large industries who have the time and resources to make formal submissions.

In the case of the internet hearings, however, the CRTC and the McLuhan Institute at the University of Toronto convened a parallel online discussion as part of the formal process.

The forum, open for three months last fall, attracted 375 responses from an estimated 200 individual authors. And while the forum did not attract the major players (who presented their opinions to the Board in person, as usual), most industry types subscribed to the list server and kept track of the ongoing discussion.

When they started, the hearings attracted widespread cynicism and concern. The CRTC wielded a heavy hand in Canadian broadcasting, enforcing Canadian content regulations, language policies, formats, and more.

Sceptics pondered the implication of Canadian content regulations on the internet. One company set up a parody "Canadian Internet Licensing Board". Columnists across the country argued that a CRTC decision to regulate was inevitable, and that the only questions concerned the nature of that regulation.

But in the online forum, while some participants expressed concern over hate literature, pronography and SPAM, the vast majority of participants argued against regulation of any type. Few were as eloquent as a Bay Street lawyer, but they made their point:

 date: Nov.22/98 message: Leave the internet alone !!!! The last thing Canada needs is another beaurocracy wasting countless dollars on regulations that are totally uncalled for. The CRTC is an abomination and a complete waste of money as it is. It serves no useful purpose other than forcing the views of the members onto the public, and in the case of TV, shows that in many cases are not what we want to see. Leave it alone, Stay out of our lives. Yours Truly, E. Ayley 

Slowly, the tide turned. The commission began to learn about the industry. They began to question applicants, asking technical questions, demonstrating a knowledge unexpected in a bureaucratic body. As the Ottawa Sun's Rob Hall wrote,

Every single commissioner had some questions followed by an in-depth discussion with us. This alone gives me hope that the issue may be properly decided. The primary issue is whether the Internet is broadcasting. If it is, then it falls under the CRTC jurisdiction....

Following the 10-minute presentation the questions started. Typically one commissioner is picked to ask all the questions. In CAIP's case it was David McKendry. What was immediately obvious was the level of understanding of some of the commissioners to this issue. While they may not understand all of the details of the technology that runs the Internet, I think they certainly grasp some of the major issues surrounding it.

In the end, the CRTC decided that some aspects of the internet - for example, video streaming or web radio - were in fact broadcasting. But even so, they decided to leave it alone. To leave it unregulated.

Now this decision does not mean that Canadians suddenly have a free hand to do what they want on the internet. The usual laws of the land apply. Injunctions against hate literature, for example, or child pornography remain in force.

But there will be no special provision for the internet, no content regulations, no language provisions, no licensing restrictions. The internet is now wide open for development in Canada, and as the CRTC observed, Canada - which already provides five percent of all internet content - is in a good position to take advantage.

Perhaps the story of the CRTC's decision isn't big news around the world (it received only a small notice on CNet and was completely ignored by Yahoo news).

But it should be.

The CRTC's decision to hold online hearings, and their capacity to listen and learn from what was said, marks a watershed in government. It's enough even to give us some hope.

Further reading (all sites accesed May 19, 1999):
  • Ayed N. CRTC begins hearings on new media. 1998 Nov 23;
    Industry groups want a "light hand" when it comes to regulating the Internet and other new media.

  • Ayley E. Forum: the internetn CRTC regulationof the Internet. 1998 Nov 22;
    Leave the internet alone !!!!

  • Bertrand F, Chairperson, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Françoise Bertrand on the occasion of the release of the Report on New Media. 1999 May 17;
    The Report on New Media clarifies the CommissionÂ’s position on the Internet. We hope it will support innovation, development and infrastructure enhancement as well as the emergence of new media services in Canada.

  • Bloomberg News. Canada won't regulate the Net. 1999 May 17;,4,36636,00.html?
    The Canadian government said it won't regulate the Internet because it doesn't pose a threat to traditional broadcasting, according to officials.

  • Boucher B. Forum: Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail. 1998 Nov 22;
    Submission to CRTC online hearings -- The CRTC should be obligated to somehow regulate SPAM on the Internet.

  • Brehl R, Media Reporter. CRTC asks if it should regulate Internet. 1998 Aug 1;
    Yesterday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission issued a plea to Canadians to tell it whether they think there is a role for regulators when it comes to new media services, delivered via the Internet or even across private corporate-computer networks.

  • Canadian Press. CRTC keeping hands off the Net. 1999 May 17;
    Federal regulators say they'll keep their hands off the Internet, sending a ripple of relief through Canada's rapidly growing online community.

  • Clement A, Information Studies. Forum: Notes on a Universal Access Fund. 1998 Nov 22; (Accessed 1998 May 19).
    Submission to CRTC online forum -- A variety of support mechanisms are needed to ensure that all major access barriers at each layer of the Access Rainbow are removed.

  • Corcoran T. Forget new media, let's liberate the old. 1999 May 18; (Accessed 1999 May 18).
    The new media, in other words, are identical to the old media. Words, letters, information, pictures, sound, video. Nothing new there. The only difference is the delivery mechanism, the Internet. The same services or information can be delivered over cable, broadcast waves, mail, even newspapers. If identifying the new media is just an excuse for not regulating the Internet, then there's no reason to continue regulating the old media.

  • CRTC. Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 1999-84 (part 1). 1999 May 17;
    Attributes of new media, The CRTC's approach to new media

  • CRTC. Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 1999-84 (part 2). 1999 May 17;
    How conventional broadcasting and telecommunications are affected by new media , offensive and illegal content , glossary of new media terms

  • CRTC. CRTC Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission - Home Page.
    CRTC Home Page

  • CRTC. CRTC won't regulate the Internet. 1999 May 17;
    CRTC News Release - "Our message is clear. We are not regulating any portion of the Internet," says Françoise Bertrand.

  • CRTC. Guide to the CRTC.
    Overview of the CRTC

  • CRTC. New Media - Call for Comments.
    The Commission wishes to conduct a thorough public consultation on the broad implications and significance that the new media hold for such affected parties as the developers and producers of these services, those who are engaged in their delivery, and those who ultimately make use of them.

  • CRTC. The New Media Hearing -- Background Information. 1999 May 17;
    The CRTCÂ’s new media hearing was unprecedented for the broad spectrum of individuals, industries, and interest groups that made comments or appeared before the Commission.

  • CRTC. Some 1998/1999 Statistics on New Media in Canada. 1999 May 17;

  • CRTC.
    Online discussion forum regarding CRTC regulation of new media - home page

  • Dalglish B, Media Reporter. CRTC wrestles with new media question. 1999 Nov 19;
    The call for submissions prompted a flood of angry responses from Canadians when the CRTC opened its first on-line Internet forum to debate the issue.

  • GLOBEtechnology. Live Cybercast: The CRTC's New Media Master Plan.

  • GLOBEtechnology. Live Cybercast: The CRTC's New Media Master Plan -- Transcripts.
    Links to dozens of transcripts

  • Hall R. CRTC eyes new media. 1998 Sep 25;
    The CRTC has put forward a request for comments on whether they should regulate the Internet and how.

  • Hall R. CRTC rules may hinder cyberspace. 1998 Nov 20;
    Under the title "New Media" hearings, the CRTC is attempting to determine not only if they should regulate it but also how they should regulate it.

  • Hall R. Not just a broadcast. 1998 Nov 27;
    What was immediately obvious was the level of understanding of some of the commissioners to this issue. While they (CRTC Commissioners) may not understand all of the details of the technology that runs the Internet, I think they certainly grasp some of the major issues surrounding it.

  • Hamilton T, Technology Reporter. Regulation left to laws, industry and filters. 1999 May 18;
    The CRTC implicitly acknowledged that government regulation of the Internet is ineffective -- if not impossible, said Rick Broadhead, co-author of The 1999 Canadian Internet Handbook and an industry consultant.

  • Harvey I. CRTC's plan to regulate the Internet is no joke. 1998 Sep 2;
    Â A year and a half ago, the pranksters at Hip-Hype Inc. floated a Web page called the Canadian Internet Licensing Board (CILB) -- ostensibly the place to go to get your Web site licensed.

  • Harvey I. Is the CRTC really a Net threat? 1998 Oct 14;
    The CRTC vice-chair opened a can of worms earlier this year when it was announced the regulatory agency would hold public hearings into the new media.

  • Hip Hype Inc. Canadian Internet Licensing Board.

  • Jack I. CRTC says it won't try to regulate the Internet. 1999 May 18;
    The CRTC announced yesterday that it will not police the Internet in any way.

  • McFarland J, Saunders J, and Fraser G. Internet is regulated enough, CRTC says. 1999 May 18;
    The federal telecommunications regulator has decided to take a hands-off approach to the Internet in a decision that leaves the powerful new technology facing far less oversight than any other Canadian medium.

  • McLuhan Program in Culture & Technology. NEWMEDIA-FORUM BULLETIN #1 -- New Media Forum Now Open for Comments. 1998 Sep 22;
    Opening announcements

  • McLuhan Program in Culture & Technology. NEWMEDIA-FORUM BULLETIN #3 -- Canadians voice diverse views on new media. 1998 Oct 12;
    Three weeks into the new media online consultation, a range of opinions have appeared in the public discussion site hosted by the McLuhan Program E-Lab on behalf of the CRTC.

  • McLuhan Program in Culture & Technology. NEWMEDIA-FORUM BULLETIN #4 -- Debate brings heated response - new ideas brought forward in recent days. 1999 Nov 7;
    The ratio of response continues to run at roughly ten to one against any form of regulation whatsoever by the CRTC

  • McLuhan Program in Culture & Technology. NEWMEDIA-FORUM BULLETIN #5 -- New Media Forum concludes online citizen consultation on new media. 1999 Nov 29;
    The New Media Forum moderators posted 375 responses from an estimated 200 individual authors.

  • McLuhan Program in Culture & Technology. Welcome to newmedia-forum.
    Home page for online discussion of the CRTC's role in the internet

  • Reynolds R. Stalled on the information highway. 1999 May 18; (Accessed 1999 May 18).
    The CRTC couldn't have fixed everything that's wrong with one report, but it could have taken a leadership position.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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