Canada's broadcast and telecommunications watchdog is gearing up to tackle a potentially explosive issue -- whether it should try to regulate the Internet.
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.
The CRTC said regulation could be used to promote Canadian culture or protect Canadians -- particularly youngsters -- from obscenities such as pornography and hate propaganda on the Internet.
Some mocked the move as "a meddling government agency" trying to do something it can't possibly do. But parents' groups applauded the CRTC.
"[The] 'they can't do it' argument is a copout", said Mark Genius, a psychologist and executive director of the Calgary-based National Foundation for Family Research and Education.
"We're not looking for the government to become our thought police, but there are some things ont he Internet that cross the line, and child pornography is one of them. And the more that can be done to fight it, the better."
Iain Grant, owner of telecommunications consulting firm SeaBoard Research in Brockville, Ont., said there are already laws on pornography and hate propaganda that are being applied to the Internet. As for the CRTC trying to protect Canadian culture on line, Mr. Grant called it a "ridiculous idea".
"The long regulatory arm cannot reach out into digital space", he said.
Others question whether the CRTC is not setting itself up for a task that is impossible to achieve, given the blinding pace of technological change.
"The unfortunate reality is that the CRTC's new media survey will probably raise more questions that it answers", said Rick Broadhead, co-author of the 1998 Canadian Internet Handbook.
"There are as many points of view about the Internet as there are issues, and we run the risk of creating a colossal report that will be out of date before the commission's final report is issued", Mr. Broadhead said.
The CRTC will accept submissions from the public until Oct. 1 and Oct. 21, and then commence a public hearing beginning Nov. 23 in Hull.
The commission went out of its way yesterday to say it has no preconceived notions about trying to regulate the Internet.
"The commission wishes to underscore the fact that it brings to this proceeding no preliminary views with respect either to how new media should be defined, or to what role, if any, the commission should play in their regulation or supervision", the CRTC declares in its written call for public comments.
But the CRTC also said its role is to "ensure the availability of high quality and diverse Canadian programming ...".
"The substantial growth and development of new media, and their delivery over both global and domestic networks, have not altered this fundamental objective, which has challenged and preoccupied Canadian for much of the 20th century", the commission stated.
The commission offers few clues as to how it could regulate content on the Internet, other than to say the approaches of the past to regulate phone and cable companies and broadcasters "may be inappropriate for the distribution of new media services".
But the CRTC does state that one way to promote Canadian culture could be to force Internet access companies to contribute to a fund for developing new Canadian media products and services. Such a tax could raise Internet access charges for consumers and businesses.
Related Web sites:
The CRTC's notice is posted at:
Online forum about the issue: