The National Post
Tuesday, May 18, 1999
page A1,A8

CRTC says it won't try to regulate the Internet

Net users cheer decision

by Ian Jack

OTTAWA -- The CRTC announced yesterday that it will not police the Internet in any way.

"We see no reason to intervene", said Françoise Bertrand, chairwoman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. "The Canadian new-media industry is vibrant, competitive, and highly successful without regulation."

The commission's report, released yesterday, follows a 10-month review, which heard from nearly 80 organizations and considered more than 1,000 submissions.

Some groups had asked the CRTC to control hate literature, pornography, and spam, or unwanted e-mail, on the Internet. The CRTC's decision means that the Criminal Code, software designed to filter unwanted messages, and the Internet industry itself, will continue to be the lines of defence in such cases.

"Needless to say, we are more than pleasantly surprised", said Stephen Bartkiw, president of AOL Canada, the nation's largest provider of Internet services, adding that he was "really taken aback" that the CRTC so firmly resisted the temptation to try to define Canada's Internet.

"It takes out a disturbing cloud of doubt that's been hanging over this industry", said Gaylen Duncan, president of the Information Technology Association of Canada. "I'm hearing a change in the P-word. It's gone from protect to promote. Duke it out in the marketplace because we think you're strong enough to make it."

The CRTC, the regulatory agency for broadcasting and telecommunications in Canada, said the Canadian companies creating content for the Internet are enjoying success, and regulation would place them at a competitive disadvantage.

Ms. Bertrand also said that the Internet fulfills the Canadian content mandate of the Broadcasting Act -- at last count about 5% of all worldwide sites were of Canadian origin.

The commission said its decision to reject regulation was based on its definition of broadcasting. Most of what flows on the Internet is words and numbers, which fall outside the Broadcast Act. Programming that can be customized -- such as a concert where the viewer can choose between different camera angles -- isn't considered a broadcast, either.

The federal regulator also said that online broadcasts from traditional broadcasters, such as radio or television stations, are exempt from regulation.

That decision puzzles Rick Broadhead, co-author of the Canadian Internet Handbook. He said the Internet will one day be the medium of choice for broadcasters.

"It is revolutionizing broadcasting as we know it", he said.

Mr. Duncan predicted that, eventually, the line between cable and telephone will be erased, and the CRTC will have no control over what Canadians watch and hear.

"They can continue to control cable in the short term", said Mr. Duncan. "But I think that when it reaches the stage that it is so converged, the CRTC is not going to be in this business anymore.

"It would appear they are getting awfully close to turning the lights off over there."

with files from Reuters and Southam News

Copyright © 1999 by The National Post. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.