Chris Sorensen, The Toronto Star
May 16, 2008 04:30 AM
Canada’s broadcast watchdog will hold public hearings next year into the thorny question of extending its purview to the Internet, a medium it deemed to be a regulatory-free zone nearly a decade ago.
The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission released a 75-page report yesterday that summarizes research and stakeholder opinion on a wide range of issues that have emerged as increasing amounts of broadcast media, such as radio programs, have migrated on to the Web in recent years. That includes questions about whether Canadian content should be promoted on the Internet, or if Internet service providers should be permitted to slow certain types of bandwidth-intensive traffic in a bid to keep their networks flowing smoothly.
While CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein said in a statement that the intention “is not to regulate new media,” he nevertheless noted that the regulator may “propose measures that would support the continued achievement of the Broadcasting Act’s objectives.”
Critics questioned the CRTC’s motives for reopening the new media file after nearly a decade of taking a hands-off approach.
Should its exemption be reversed, the CRTC’s mandate would likely be limited to potentially overseeing online content offered by TV networks or radio stations. So-called “user-generated content” — personal videos uploaded to YouTube, for example — would be unaffected by any policy change.
The CRTC also indicated in the final report that it plans to review the issue of Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, that are using special software programs to sniff out and slow down data packets associated with bandwidth-intensive services such as peer-to-peer file sharing.
While the ISPs say such practices are necessary to prevent a small number of heavy-bandwidth users from slowing down the entire network, critics argue that “traffic shaping” activities are a threat to the concept of “net neutrality,” or the idea that all content on the Web should be treated equally.
Michael Hennessy, the vice-president of wireless, broadband and content policy for Telus Corp., said a bandwidth crunch is looming and that any discussions about traffic shaping at the CRTC are therefore likely to focus on questions of fairness and transparency.