Northern Ontario Business
vol.19, no.3, p.6
January, 1999

CRTC eyes Internet regulation

by John Milne, allout@sympatico.ca

Even as I write this, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) is conducting 'hearings' in the nation's capital gathering opinion as to whether it should or should not develop rules and regulations for the Internet.

Of course everybody knew this was coming. In true CRTC fashion, they'd warned us and even invited submissions. That's what the CRTC does.

It invites submissions and quite a lot of Canadians spend quite a lot of time, energy, and (sometimes) money ... submitting.

However, this particular CRTC event should have been a good one to miss, and all the submitters would have done well to save their submitting energies and stay home because the whole exercise is silly.

Canada doesn't own the Internet. Even influential Canadians like Conrad Black don't own the Internet, although you can bet your bippy he'd pay a king's ransom to get control of it.

So what could these good regulators have been thinking to even raise the question?

I'll tell you what they were thinking. The CRTC vice-chairman for telecommunications, David Colville, gave it all away in a pre-hearing interview when he pinpointed 'tax policy, research and development, and manpower training' as their focus.

Please forgive me if I thought these areas were already the domains of Revenue Canada, Industry Canada, Employment Canada, and probably quite a few other departments with the word Canada tacked on the end so the great unwashed might eventually understand what country they're in.

By 'tax policy' I would bet that David meant finding new and creative ways to tax all Canadians who, in any way, use the Internet. I'd also bet you're seriously shocked and amazed to hear that.

'Research and development' could mean almost anything, but past CRTC rulings would lead this skeptic to think thoughts like Canadian software, Canadian content, and Canadian government control of everything.

The fine minds at Electronic Frontier Canada, an Internet civil liberties movement based in Kitchener, Ont., envision CRTC Web filters to change noxious U.S. spelling for words like colour, neighbour, and honour, and another to replace American banner advertisements to Canadian banner ads as the data crosses the border.

'Manpower training' is thought to be a reference to getting back all the Canuck egg-heads who left the country for California where they could work on some extreme far-out stuff for money. Hard to say what the CRTC means about anything. Like, in their terms, the Internet is now 'New Media'. Their latest designation is intentionally left undefined so it will cover everything. Even stuff that doesn't exist.

But (and here's the clever ploy), by including the Internet in the category of 'New Media' the CRTC keepers of the Old Media (radio, television, telecommunications) can logically move to regulate it. Marshall McLuhan must have rolled in his grave over this one.

Um... there are 28,470 Internet networks in the U.S. and 4,796 in Canada. Microsoft, Netscape, Cisco, Nortel, and Lucent, the major players in Internet development and delivery, are not Canadian-owned. Eighty-four per cent of all the home pages on the World Wide Web are in English. Less that two per cent are in French. In 1997, U.S. corporations spent $907 million on Internet advertising. The Playboy Web site gets about five million hits a day making it the world's busiest.

Let's see the CRTC regulate that!

Logic aside, is it reasonable to believe that CRTC regulation would improve the Internet? Only if you believe that limited access is better because that's how they 'improved' the Canadian television industry.

You will also have to believe that forced Canadian content (see 'Old Media') would make the Net better and save the battered remnants of our Canadian Culture from extinction and, while we're at it, we'd better do something about the fact that there are more German and Japanese language Web sites than French.

Of course, there's the question of all that pornography and bomb recipes and goodness knows what else out there on the Net. Shouldn't the CRTC regulate that garbage off the Canadian Internetworks?

When it comes to civil liberties and freedom of speech, our dearly beloved CRTC doesn't have a great record. This country and many others already have laws about fraud, obscenity, slander, and hate-mongering, so why should the CRTC get involved when we already have law-makers and police forces charged with the task?

The truth is the CRTC is deathly afraid of the Internet.

Right now, from this computer, I can dial up and listen to radio programs from across Canada and around the world and none of them are CRTC-regulated.

I can also get CRTC-free television not to mention movies, music, video, sound, and light. I can talk to people around the world, send them files and faxes and never make a long-distance phone call. All without CRTC approval.

The Internet, you see, is killing the CRTC because it's everywhere and nowhere. The Internet abhors regulation. It exists because enough people around the globe believe that freedom of speech is the ultimate civil liberty.

A time may come -- and it may come very soon -- when the CRTC calls for submissions and hearings and nobody answers. Think they'd get THAT message?

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Copyright © 1999 by Northern Ontario Business. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.