Friday, October 16, 1998

David Colville Chat

Hi! Welcome to the David Colville Chat!

It's a debate that rages both inside and outside the Internet, with readers and with business:

Should New Media be regulated?
It's now the central question around the hearings being conducted by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. David Colville, Vice-Chairman, Telecommunications at the CRTC, is taking part in a LIVE chat with CANOE readers.

David Colville: Hi, I appreciate the opportunity to participate on this on-line chat with the people at CANOE, and look forward to your questions.

Question: It seems to me that the government is the last entity we would look to guide or regulate the Internet. You are inherently behind the times when it comes to telecom issues. Why should we allow you anywhere near the Net?

David Colville: I would have thought that we were at least up with the times in terms with telecom. I spent the last five years opening up the market to competition and deregulation. We're not necessarily trying to find a way to regulate the Internet. We're tyring to figure out how the Internet and new media relates to the issues we're required to deal with under the Broadcasting Act and look at whether of or not there are broader government issues, such as tax policy, research and development, and man-power training that can help stimulate this industry.

Question: As far as Canadian content goes, don't you think that your offices are acting as a feeble crutch taking the choice out of the hand of the consumers in our market system?

David Colville: We probably have more choices in Canada, in terms of braodcast services, than any other country in the world. Our fundamental concern is to try and insure access for Canadian content creators to the Canadian broadcast distribution system.

Question: Is the CRTC concerned about advertising dollars heading to American banner ad serving networks that serve Canadian ads to Canadian eyeballs on sites that feature international content, ie., The Jerusalem Post?

David Colville: I guess one of the issues we're trying to understand is the economics or the business case for Canadian new media services, and obviously advertising is an important component of that business case. Obviously, one would hope that Canadian advertising dollars would support the development of Canadian services. And I don't mean to imply that we would necessarily need regulation to achieve that end.

Question: I think most people would say "hands off" when it comes to the government setting Internet policy. But even if you do, policing would be impossible, wouldn't it?

David Colville: I'm not sure that policing is necessarily impossible. With any kind of a communication system inevitably there becomes gate-keepers. I guess in the past people thought other technologies were "unregulatable" in the early days of development, but as gate-keepers appeared, different methods of insuring access were developed. And going back to the original premiss about policing, I'm not sure any policing is required if certain Internet content falls within the definition of broadcasting that is contained in the Broadcasting Act. The question is what should we do about it? The act allows us to exempt it. And the further question would be, how would one define those exemption peramiters?

Question: Are you personally offended by much of what you see on the Internet (ie pornography) and, if so, is it the government's place to keep it in check? When do you cross the line that says the free market can no longer decide what's on the Net in Canada?

David Colville: No, I'm not offended by what I personally see on the Internet. Generally speaking, we support a free market approach. That's why we've opened up the telecom industry to competition. We want to understand how these new media services will impact on our ability to satisfy our cultural objectives. And given the nature of this new medium, it may well be that we conclude at the end of this process that content regulation is not required.

Question: Why does the Internet need extreme regulation, and not just better education, what we have right now is thousands of people assuming that their identity can not be traced. Why not just make the public more aware of how easy it is for the real police to hunt people down on here.

David Colville: We have not concluded that the Internet requires any regulation, let alone extreme regulation.

Question: One of the biggest advantages of the Internet is the use of e-mail. Does the commission plan to look into this area at all, which strikes me as very dangerous ground.

David Colville: No.

Question: Your commission talking about "providing an environment which will stimulate the development" of the Internet. Exactly what does that mean? Canadian content rules like radio? Mandatory bilingual websites? Canadian software on Canadian computers? Strikes me that whatever you recommend, the Internet is simply too International for any regulations to have any muscle.

David Colville: You may be correct, although having some of the submissions that we've already recieved, or getting a number of recommendations related to funding of content creators, tax credits, research and development grants, and various man-power training initiatives. So these are some of the examples of issues or initiatives that the government might take in order to help stimulate this industry.

Question: The US government will likely very soon place responsibility for control of the Internet at its most basic level to a California non-profit corporation whose board of directors is drawn from industry. Has the CRTC considered the importance of the domain name service (DNS) and control of the Internet generally to the operation of the Internet (aka 'new media') in Canada?

David Colville: We have not given a lot of consideration to this issue. The operation of the backbone infrastructure I could generally characterize as a telecommunications issue. While telecom issues do form a new part of our new media proceding, the real issue for us is to try and make sure there is a real Canadian presence from a content point of view.

Question: One of the big problems with any industry in Canada is being able to offer the same service in the country as the city? How can you ensure that people in the rural areas will get the same level of service that big cities get from the Internet?

David Colville: We're currently in the middle of a proceding on the telecom side to look at how we can insure a broad range of telecommunication services are available to all parts of Canada. And we conducted hearings eariler this year in a number of remote locations on this issue. One of the issues raised was the cost of long distance access to the Internet, and I understand that in most parts of Canada there will be no long distance charges to access the Internet by the end of next year or early the following year. But this issue is a real concern to try to get high speed Internet access throughout the country as early as possible.

Question: How much money is being spent on your commission? How do you justify its expense to us taxpayers?

David Colville: I think the commission's budget is about $35 million a year for the entire CRTC, and the justification is that the mandate that we have from the government through the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act.

Question: Considering the CRTC's record in allowing Cable, Telephone rate increases, plus dictating what we should watch, and giving cable companies free rein in charges. Will CRTC involvement with the Internet result in the same controls over what we can do on a service we pay for.

David Colville: As a result of long distance telephone competition, long distance rates have dropped dramatically in the past few years. I expect to see similar trends in local competition starting next year. Cable competition has taken longer to develop, but as it begins to take hold, we expect a similar situation in cable rates. As far as I know, no one has suggested that we should regulate Internet rates.

Question: Dear Mr. Colville, I had a horrible thought yesterday. It came after talking to George Goodwin, v.p. of McClelland & Stewart, who complaained that it has become extremely difficult to sell CD-ROM copies of The Canadian Encyclopedia because so many copies of American encyclopedias are bundled free with new computers. After that A couple of hours later I happened to see a full-page IBM ad in the Globe & Mail of a new computer it was launching - and right on the monitor of this spanking new machine - the title page of an American encyclopedia.

This is when the horrible thought occurred to me: maybe the battle to keep Canadians "home" on the Internet is over. Maybe, despite the best efforts of the best minds, the global character of modern Information Technology has launched a tidal wave that cannot be stopped. Maybe this explains why the most popular of Canadian sites - great sites like CANOE - aren't exactly making money hand over fist. That really popular sites like TSN.CA and Sympatico don't have audience (and advertising) clout that the TV networks have. This is indeed a horrible thought. I suspect that this scenario may have crossed the minds of you and your fellow commissioners. Mark Schneider CTV's Digital Desk .

David Colville: Yes, the thought has crossed our minds. But we are at the very early stages of developing this technology, and I think, not withstanding your concerns, there is a huge potential for a Canadian product, not just in Canada, but around the world. And again, I don't mean to imply that we necessarily need regulation, and more particularily the traditional broadcasting regulation, to achieve this potential. But we are looking for comments and suggestions such as yours and others we are hearing today as part of our new media proceding.

Question: I agree that the operation of the Internet backbone infrastructure is a telecom issue, and very much a global telecom issue. Does the CRTC participate in any international fora which address Internet infrastructure issues? Are you aware of any Industry Canada agencies involved in this kind of international 'co-ordination' of the Internet?

David Colville: We at the CRTC are not directly involved in this sort of activity, and I am simply not aware of others in the government if there are.

Question: Would it not be futile to try to regulate Canadian content on a medium with such dynamic sources of information as the Internet. Since the user chooses which sites to visit, it seems you would have to regulate the user.

David Colville: You may be correct, but it remains to be seen whether content agrigators in effect end up becoming gate-keepers for real meaningful access for Canadian content creators.

Question: From what you've seen so far, does "new media" fall within the definitions of the broadcasting act? If it doesn't, do you think it's necessary that the acts be amended to include the Internet. In other words, is it inevitable that the Net will come under strong government regulation?

David Colville: No, it is not inevitable that the Internet would come under strong government regulation. Some people have suggested that some forms of Internet content may fit the definition of broadcasting. And the issue then becomes, if it does, what should be do about it, recognizing the control and policing problems that many of you have raised today.

Question: Following the developments of the recent OECD Ministerial Conference on Electronic Commerce held in Ottawa between October 7-9, and the Government's privacy legislation (which is a good mix of public and private resonsibilities), the timing of the CRTC hearing might be somewhat inappropriate considering it defines a "heavy-handed" approach to regulation. On a second note, producers of Canadian content currently have access to a Canadian market of 30 million consumers. However, the Internet provides Canadian content producers with a market which exceed 100 million globa;l Internet users. if Canada implements such Internet standards as proposed by the CRTC could we not risk reta;litory measures from those potential internationl markets?

David Colville: Again, we're not presuming to regulate the Internet. Many people have asked me why we are doing this at this time, which relates to your point about the OECD conference. The reason we're doing it now is because many people have asked us to clarify the position of whether some new media content would require a broadcasting licence. For example the digital media champions group headed by Keith Kolcho of Digital Renaissance have specifically asked us to clarify this issue, and that is one the main reasons why we are conducting this proceding now, nd giving the public an opportunity to comment.

Question: I read that the CRTC isn't pressuring to regulate the Internet. If not, then why is there a commission? Doesn't the mere existence of your commission mean you feel obligated to do SOMETHING?

David Colville: I don't think the mere presence of the commission leads us to feel obligated to do something - if that something implies detailed regulation. But as I indicated in the previous answer, I think it is incumbent upon us to clarify where new media fits within the Broadcasting Act, even if it is to say it doesn't fit. But we don't want to make this decision ourselves which is why we're conducting this wide-ranging public proceding. And I welcome and encourage all of your comments as part of that proceding.

Moderator: CNEWS would like to thank Mr. Colville for coming out today, and we'd like to thank all of you for participating. A transcript of this chat will be made available later today in CNEWS. Thanks again to everybody.

David Colville: I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for participating in this chat. It is too bad the technology hasn't quite developed to the stage where we could have voice interaction. But I aprecciate the opportunity to discuss these issues and look forward to more discussion as our new media proceding continues.

For more information about this commission, you can access the CRTC website (http://www.crtc.gc.ca) or the New Media Forum (http://www.newmedia-forum.net). You can also read the official public notice about these hearings and the commission's mandate.

Copyright © 1998 by Canoe. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.