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The Toronto Star
Tuesday, May 18, 1999
pages D1,D8

Watchdog keeps hands off content on Internet

New media 'vibrant, highly competitive' without rules

by Valerie Lawton

OTTAWA -- Canada's broadcast regulator is firmly closing the door on regulation of the Internet.

"Our message is clear. The CRTC will not regulate the Internet, nothing on the Internet", said Françoise Bertrand, chairperson of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

The Canadian Internet industry was delighted with yesterday's announcement, which followed hearings last fall. But others said it was a missed opportunity to ensure Canadian content flourishes in the electronic world.

Bertrand said the watchdog couldn't see any reasons to intervene, now or in the future.

"The Canadian new-media industry is vibrant, highly competitive, and successful without regulation", she said.

That's exactly the point Internet companies made again and again at the public hearings.

The fact the commission has listened now puts Canada in a position to become an international leader in electronic commerce, said Shahla Aly, vice-president and general manager of E-business at IBM Canada Ltd.

Industry applauds regulator's decision

"It's really important in sending a signal that we are taking electronic commerce very seriously as a nation and any inhibitors, or even any perceived inhibitors, are being clearly removed", Aly said in an interview.

"Business moves to a clearly defined landscape and this is all about landscape definition."

Aly and others in the industry said the decision makes it more likely a business will put up a Web site from Canada, and not somewhere else in the world.

The commission, which received more than 1,000 submissions on Internet regulation, is one of the first regulators around the world to provide a clear position on Internet regulation.

"The future's been kind of clarified for us", said Ron Kawchuk, president of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers.

He said regulation would have stifled innovation, and would have been difficult, if not impossible, to actually do.

The commission launched its study of new media because of its certain influence on the two industries the watchdog does regulate, broadcasting and telecommunications.

One of the questions was whether what's on the Internet is broadcasting, and, therefore, falls under Canada's Broadcasting Act.

The commission decided much of what's on the Internet, including text containing numbers and letters, is not broadcasting.

Other material that does qualify as broadcasting will be exempt from regulation, the commission said.

It said new media are not a substitute for traditional broadcasting, but will complement it.

The commission also said Canada has a substantial presence on the Internet, pointing to estimates that 5 per cent of the world's Web sites are Canadian.

Some radio broadcasters are already sending their signals over the Internet and didn't want to face regulation there, too.

TV and radio broadcasters also said the Internet has the potential to turn their world upside down if it takes off as many predict it will.

Michael McCabe, who heads the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, applauded the decision not to regulate the Internet, as well as the commission's promise to review broadcasting regulation - not revisit Internet regulation - if at some point the Internet starts hurting traditional broadcasters.

The Canadian Conference of the Arts had hoped the commission would introduce some regulation to encourage Canadian content.

"They said there's plenty of Canadian content ... but in a few years, we may see that the Canadian producers are overwhelmed by an avalanche of production from other countries", said Megan Williams, the organization's national director.

Peter Bleyer of the Council of Canadians said no regulation means the Internet will become less of a cultural tool.

"If there's no regulation, inevitably the market will take it in the direction of commercialization. Less and less of the Web will be freely accessible to citizens", Bleyer said.

The commission also ruled out taking a role in tackling pornography and hate propaganda on the Internet, saying Canada already has laws on those issues.

Officials said the Internet industry has adopted self-regulatory measures, and filtering software is available to parents concerned about what their children might see on the Net.


Copyright © 1999 by The Toronto Star. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.