Article - Content regulation rejected in Canada (May 1999)

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On May 17, 1999, in a move welcomed by Canada’s Internet industry, (and in stark contrast to Australian developments) the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared that it would not impose content regulations on the Internet.

‘The CRTC has no role to play in the development of the Internet in Canada -- not now, not later,’ said Commission Vice-chair Mr David Colville. The Commission ruled 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.

The Commission administers the Broadcast Act, which regulates the broadcast of offensive material and also provides for content quotas. Up to 60 percent of music and television broadcast in Canada must be created by Canadians. In November 1998, the Commission held hearings to decide whether or not Canadian content quotas should be applied to the Internet - a process which eventually led to the May 17 decision.

The Commission found that ‘there is no apparent shortage of Canadian content on the Internet today, rather, market forces are providing a Canadian Internet presence that is also supported by a strong demand for Canadian product.’

On a technical matter which is relevant in the Australian context, the Commission found that it had no jurisdiction to consider the Internet, as the Internet was not ‘broadcasting’. ‘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.’

The Commission now plans to issue an exemption order which will make the Internet off-limits to regulators.

Text of the Ruling

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will not regulate new media services on the Internet.

After conducting an in-depth review under the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act beginning last July, the CRTC has concluded that the new media on the Internet are achieving the goals of the Broadcasting Act and are vibrant, highly competitive and successful without regulation. The CRTC is concerned that any attempt to regulate Canadian new media might put the industry at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace.

Regarding whether content on the Internet is broadcasting as defined by the Broadcasting Act, the CRTC has made the following points:

1. Everything transmitted over the Internet that is predominantly alphanumeric text is by definition not broadcasting under the Broadcasting Act.
2. Material transmitted over the Internet, which is significantly ‘customizable’ or capable of being uniquely tailored by the individual user, does not involve the transmission of programs for reception by the public and is, therefore, not broadcasting.
3. The remaining material would fall within the definition of broadcasting under the Broadcasting Act, but will be exempt from regulation for the following reasons:
  • The new media complement, rather than substitute for traditional broadcasting. Before the new media could substitute for traditional media, key technological and other developments would have to take place.
  • The Commission does not believe that regulation of the new media would further the objectives of the Broadcasting Act.
  • There is a substantial Canadian presence on the Internet today, supported by demand for Canadian new media content.
  • Ample business and market incentives exist for the continued production and distribution of Canadian new media content.
  • The new media industry requires local Canadian content to develop their businesses.
  • Both the Federal and Provincial governments have initiatives in place to support Canadian content on the Internet.
  • Generally applicable Canadian laws, industry self regulation, content filtering software as well as increased media awareness are appropriate tools to deal with offensive and illegal content on the Internet.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission web site is at:

Chris Connolly

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