In early 2009, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is expected to hold a public hearing to examine broadcasting delivered and accessed over the Internet and over mobile devices. The result of this proceeding may signal the end of the "hands-off" approach to Canadian broadcasting in new media that the CRTC has taken for the past decade.

Over the years, the CRTC has issued a number of exemption orders regarding new media. In 1999, it decided to exempt from regulation, without terms and conditions, broadcasting services delivered and accessed over the Internet. At that time, the CRTC agreed with the approach set out in its Report on New Media (CRTC 99-14), which stated that regulation of the Internet was not necessary to achieve the Broadcasting Act’s objectives. In 2003, the CRTC determined that retransmission of television or radio programming over the Internet fell under the exemption order. In 2007, the CRTC exempted from regulation mobile television broadcasting services accessed through mobile devices.

During the last decade, the new media broadcasting environment has considerably evolved, with the significant increase of traffic over the Internet that would qualify as "broadcasting" under the Broadcasting Act. In 2006, in response to the significant and continuous changes, the CRTC released its Report on the Future Environment Facing the Canadian Broadcasting System: A Report Prepared Pursuant to Section 15 of the Broadcasting Act, announcing public policy action to come.

In 2007, the CRTC announced the New Media Project Initiative to "investigate the cultural, economic and technological issues associated with the new media broadcasting." This initiative resulted in the Perspective on Canadian Broadcasting in New Media Report (Report), which comprises research results and industry members’ views. Most seem to indicate that assumptions made in 1999 about the state of the industry are now extremely outdated. With high-speed residential Internet access, increased accessibility to audio, video and professionally produced high-quality broadcasting content on either the Internet or mobile devices, and the emergence of new advertising revenues business models, Canadian new media environment broadcasting environment and its impact on Canadian conventional broadcasting media has radically changed.

In light of the Report’s findings, the CRTC announced its intention to initiate a proceeding on the role of new media in the broadcasting system. On October 15, 2008, it confirmed this intention by calling for comments and announcing the public hearing.

The CRTC had requested submissions on and will likely look at the following issues:

  • What is the scope of new media broadcasting and what is its impact on the Canadian broadcasting system?
  • Are regulatory measures or incentives needed for the creation of Canadian new media broadcasting content?
  • Are there any barriers to accessing Canadian content in the new media environment?
  • Are the new media exemption orders still appropriate?
  • Should Internet services providers be required to financially contribute to the creation of presentation of Canadian programming, like the Canadian cable and satellite distribution undertakings?

McCarthy Tétrault Notes:

The CRTC’s decision to hold a hearing into new media broadcasting services and review its previous exemption orders may indicate the CRTC’s willingness to consider the possibility of imposing a full or partial regulatory system over new media broadcast distribution.

Whatever the result of this proceeding, the CRTC has seized an appropriate moment to engage interested parties in this dialogue.