ISPs want user-generated content in broadcasting definition

Not considering user-generated content in its definition of new media broadcasting is a “fundamental error” by the CRTC, according to the chair of an Internet provider industry group.

“Despite the CRTC saying they wouldn’t include user-generated content, if we want a true picture of how much Canadian content is out there, you can’t ignore it,” said Tom Copland, chair of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers.

“I think that’s a fundamental error in their definition of new media.”

CAIP made a submission to the CRTC regarding the latter’s notice of consultation and hearing on Canadian broadcasting in new media on Friday, the deadline for submissions. The oral hearing will take place in Gatineau, Que., on February 17.

The CRTC is looking for input on the definition of new media broadcasting, its impact on the Canadian broadcasting system and the need for incentives or regulations promoting Canadian content.

But the communications watchdog, in its notice of public hearing, specifically dismissed UGC. “(T)he Commission is not concerned with user-generated broadcasting content,” reads the notice. “(T)he commission does not seek to enquire into the content, quality or availability of material created by individual Canadians in a personal capacity.”

The inclusion of UGC is tied inextricably to two other issues CAIP will address at the hearings — those of levies on Internet service to compensate musicians and net neutrality.

Canadian songwriters’ group SOCAN is proposing a 2.5 per cent levy on broadband Internet sales to compensate musicians for the broadcast of their music. Another proposal would see songwriters get 16 cents per day per broadband connection. At those rates, Copland said, “it won’t be long before taxes on broadband surpass the cost of the service.”

(The Copyright Board quietly hiked SOCAN’s levy on blank CDs by 38 per cent – to 29 cents per disk – last week. A board decision to award SOCAN a levy on iPods and digital recorders was squashed by a federal court in January of this year. AT press time, SOCAN hadn’t responded to an interview request.)

Copland argues that the levy is wrong because many DSL connections aren’t used for Internet access – dedicated wide area network circuits and retail point-of-sale debit and credit connections, for example.

“Levies are an old-fashioned way of being compensated, (from) when we were looking at a medium where content was forced upon people,” Copland said. “They want to apply old rules to new technologies and business models.”

And levy as subsidy for Canadian commercial artists doesn’t work to level the playing field, when so many non-commercial content producers are struggling to get their material on the Internet, he said. It’s a preference for online content before it’s produced – and so net neutrality comes into the picture.

The principle of net neutrality demands that wholesale Internet providers can’t show preference for certain content, for example, by restricting the download or streaming speed of certain content so content the provider has a financial interest in gets more bandwidth. If Bell and Rogers are paying a subsidy, Copland said, they’re more likely to want to manage traffic.

“Now they have a commercial interesting that content that’s being subsidized,” Copland said. “If it’s coming out of their pockets, they’re paying for it.”

Last month, the CRTC ruled that Internet wholesalers like BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. are entitled to manage the type and volume of traffic – so-called “traffic throttling” – on networks retail ISPs use to serve their customers, rejecting complaints by CAIP and others that the practice is anti-competitive.

At press time, the CRTC had not been able to provide a spokesperson to speak on the issue.

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