The Globe & Mail
Monday, May 17, 1999

CRTC expected to keep hands off Internet

by Simon Tuck

Ottawa -- The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will avoid any radical expansion of its own jurisdiction or far-reaching attempt to regulate the Internet, observers say.

The CRTC, set to release its much-anticipated report on new media today, was convinced by the vast majority of submissions that any attempt to regulate the Internet would be futile and could cripple Canada's fledgling electronic commerce industry, those close to the issue say.

"There seems to be a consensus", said Peter Lyman, a telecommunications specialist at PricewaterhouseCoopers Inc. "There was a broad consensus that you shouldn't go to those lengths."

The CRTC was giving out few hints or signals about the content of its report, but those involved said they were able to pick up the odd clue here and there. "They're really, really downplaying it to us", said one supplicant who asked to remain anonymous.

Gaylen Duncan, president and chief executive officer of the Information Technology Association of Canada, said it was a very good sign for those against further regulation that the commission moved up the release date for its report to today from June 15. "The signal I would take is they're coming out so quickly, I wouldn't think there's a problem", he said. "They reached a consensus quickly."

Those against regulation said they also gained confidence their side had won the argument because no lockup accompanied the announcement.

"There's no buzz around this decision", said a spokesperson for one organization that had taken part.

CRTC officials wouldn't comment on the contents of the report.

While there were strong arguments against further regulation, the commission risked abrogating its duties if it ignored the powerful new medium.

When it opened its review of new media, the broad term applied to the convergence and interaction of computers, television, telephone and radio, in November, it was besieged with a flood of angry responses.

The hearings brought together perhaps the most unusual mix of organizations and individuals in its history -- from broadcasters and telecom companies to free-speech advocates and big Internet service providers.

Those in favour of more regulation pointed to the Internet's ability to ignore political borders and transmit unsavory content such as pornography, hate literature and unwanted E-mail advertising as reasons to regulate.

But those on the other side of the fence argued that already has laws to fight those elements and painted the CRTC as an old answer for a new question.

"I think it can be very significant if they went all the way and said the Broadcasting Act and Canadian content rules apply; it would be devastating", said Dave Patterson, executive director of the Canadian Advanced Technology Association.

"There would be a sharp decline in the growth of the Internet in Canada. A click of the mouse can move the Internet to another place."

The vast majority of interveners told the commission that it should avoid regulating the relatively new Internet industry lest it cramp its growth.

David Jones, president of Electronic Frontier Canada, argues that the Internet should be treated like books and magazines.

"We got where we are today without the CRTC being involved at all."

with files from Canadian Press

Copyright © 1999 by The Globe & Mail. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.