Opinion » Cybernaut


The CRTC sits up



To be fair to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, there isn’t a country on the planet that has figured out how to manage the Internet. If they’re not censoring, then they’re up to their eyeballs in court cases and legal challenges.

Still, it’s been about 10 years since the CRTC looked at the distribution of digital content over the web, deciding back in 1999 that it was probably best to leave the ’net unregulated.

All things considered, it was probably the best approach at the time. The web needed that time to grow, evolve and become entrenched in our lives, to get to the point when more than 90 per cent of Canadians have the option of subscribing to high speed Internet, and 60 per cent of Canadians actually do so.

The founders of the Internet realized early on that any ham-fisted attempts to regulate the web using the same policies as television and radio would defeat the whole purpose of building the network. The Internet was meant to be the opposite of traditional media, a network without limitations that belonged to everyone instead of a few entrenched companies. So far so good, but it hasn’t been easy to keep the web open to all.

However, the fact that more people are using the Internet for traditional uses — movies and television and music — has prompted the CRTC to review its decision to let Internet broadcasting go largely unregulated. According to a Canadian Press story, the CRTC will limit its review to commercial applications of the web instead of individuals. If groups make money from distribution, like Netflix or iTunes, then there’s a real possibility they’re going to have to abide by the same regulations as others.

That’s something I do support. While I’m not entirely happy with the way the entertainment industry has embraced the Web, suing downloaders and placing those annoying “You wouldn’t steal a car” ads at the start of every DVD I legally purchase or rent — and I’m horrified at the thought that “fair use” would be redefined in such a way that anybody who makes a mixed CD for their girlfriend is a fugitive from justice — I do think the industry needs to be thrown a bone when they do something right.

One of the biggest reasons there’s so much crap on television these days is the fact that television is still, for all intents and purposes, free. The money you pay on your cable bill goes to your cable company and not to the networks that produce the programming.

The result of past deregulation pushed by the cable industry has been a massive increase in the number of stations available, which has meant less advertising revenue for networks. Networks everywhere are cutting costs, opting for “reality” television instead of scripted shows, while the handful of telecommunications companies that distribute their programs get wealthier and wealthier.