CRTC to rethink Internet

Broadcasting VP fires back at critics in Quebec, but says hearings will be held in late 2008 on whether the watchdog should get involved with the Net

The CRTC’s VP of broadcasting has fired back at critics who, earlier this week, took aim at his boss Konrad von Finckenstein, while, at the same time, appeared to answer calls for the federal watchdog to get involved with the Internet.

In an interview with Montreal newspaper La Presse, Michel Arpin said the CRTC, which in 1999 decided it would not regulate the Internet, has since changed its tune. He says the federal regulator is studying the issue and plans to hold public hearings about the Internet at the end of 2008.

‘The door is not closed on regulating [the Internet],’ Arpin told the French-language paper, in an article that appeared on Wednesday. In 1999, he added, ‘there was nothing to regulate.’

Arpin made the comments in the wake of a Monday press conference in which 18 unions and associations, mainly from Quebec, criticized the CRTC’s handling of social and cultural matters.

The group — which includes film, TV and music lobby groups such as the Union des artistes, the AQTIS, the APFTQ, ACTRA and music industry group ADISQ — says cultural stakeholders in the province are worried about the apparent deregulation agenda of the CRTC and its head von Finckenstein. It is calling on Heritage Minister Josée Verner to put pressure on the CRTC to enforce the cultural and social objectives of the Broadcasting Act more rigorously. It also called on the feds to be more involved in the Internet.

But Arpin blasted the group for targeting von Finckenstein, saying, ‘His discourse since his arrival as president has been about protecting Canadian culture.’

Solange Drouin, head of the ADISQ, stands by the coalition’s remarks. ‘Arpin acts as though we are just criticizing von Finckenstein. But we are trying to draw attention to decisions the CRTC has made in the past, starting with their 1999 ruling to not regulate the Internet,’ she tells Playback Daily. ADISQ was one of the key organizers of the public effort to lobby Verner, which included a televised plea at its annual music awards gala on Sunday night.

The coalition wants Verner to use her power to force the CRTC to apply Canadian content rules more rigorously. ‘Madame Verner has a clear directive and we need her to force the CRTC to apply the predominance rule for Canadian content. Government ministers have used this power in the past,’ says Drouin. Then-industry minister Maxime Bernier stepped in twice in 2006 to dictate telecommunications policy: first with voice-over-Internet protocol, and then by announcing that deregulation of local telephone markets would proceed without CRTC assent.

ACTRA president Richard Hardacre concurs. ‘This is not an attack on the CRTC. I think the CRTC has a real handful to deal with… We just want the minister to pay attention, to not permit this drift towards deregulation,’ he says.

Hardacre is concerned, however, that the CRTC isn’t going to hold public hearings on regulating the Internet until the end of 2008. ‘There is no point closing the barn doors after the horse has already got out,’ he says. ‘The Internet is expanding exponentially. Ad revenue is going up 30% annually online. It’s generating big money.’