In a move welcomed by Canada's Internet industry, the nation's broadcast and telecom industry regulator said Monday it will not impose content regulations on the Internet.
In announcing its ruling at an Ottawa press conference, national broadcast watchdog Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) did not mince words.
"The CRTC has no role to play in the development of the Internet in Canada -- not now, not later", said commission vice-chair David Colville.
The commission administers the Broadcast Act, which dictates that up to 60 percent of music and television broadcast in Canada must be created by Canadians. The long-controversial law is intended to bolster Canada's cultural identity in the face of a flood of entertainment products from its neighbor to the south.
Last November, the Commission held hearings to decide whether or not Canadian content quotas should be applied to the Net. The majority of participants strongly advised that the nation's Internet economy was doing fine without government intervention.
On Monday, the government formally agreed.
"There is no apparent shortage of Canadian content on the Internet today", Colville said. "Rather, market forces are providing a Canadian Internet presence that is also supported by a strong demand for Canadian product."
The commission said that the majority of material on the Net was still text, and thus outside its jurisdiction.
"The Commission considers that the majority of services now available on the Internet consist predominantly of alphanumeric text, and, therefore, do not fall within the scope of the Broadcasting Act and are thus outside the Commission's jurisdiction."
Ottawa-based telecom and Internet law expert Timothy Denton welcomed the decision. He had lobbied the commission on behalf of small Internet service providers across the country.
"[The commission] acknowledged the views of the majority of parties that generally applicable Canadian laws, coupled with self-regulatory initiatives -- rather than the Broadcasting Act -- are more appropriate means for dealing with offensive material in new media", said Denton.
"Applying Broadcasting Act regulations would have had a devastating [impact] on the growth of Canadian Internet suppliers and electronic commerce", said David Patterson, Executive Director of the Canadian Advanced Technology Association. He added that business-to-business communications will soon account for 80 percent of Net traffic.
At Monday's press conference, CRTC Chair Francoise Bertrand indicated that the hearings were a "learning experience."
Critics were less diplomatic.
"The CRTC didn't know what it was doing", said David Jones, president of free expression group Electronic Frontier Canada.
Jones chastised the CRTC for taking ten months to decide not to do anything, noting that the commission "caused fear, uncertainty, and doubt out in the industry."
"On the other hand, with such a definitive conclusion, maybe it was worth it."
Bertrand noted that the Internet "complements rather than substitutes existing Canadian broadcasting." She added that the CRTC would not "regulate offensive and illegal Internet content", noting that existing criminal legislation, industry self-policing, filtering software, and increased media coverage all play a vital role in monitoring Internet content.
"This is a historic day for Canada", said Rick Broadhead, co-author of the Canadian Internet Handbook. "The CRTC made the right decision, but I think they're short-sighted if they believe the Internet is not having a significant impact on traditional broadcasting."
Jim Carroll, co-author of the Handbook with Broadhead, celebrated the decision by playing Anne Murray's "Snowbird", continuously on his Web site.
By playing the song -- which he calls "perhaps the ultimate in Canadian content" -- Carroll said that Canadians would do their part "to ensure that [they] use an Internet which is full of wonderful Canadian content."
The commission said it will issue a proposed exemption order by the end of June that would effectively close the book on the issue and make the Internet off-limits to regulators.