Legislative review panel makes 97 recommendations to reform communications law

Under the broader scope proposed by the panel, foreign online providers would pay sales tax

Legislative review panel makes 97 recommendations to reform communications law

The Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel has released its long-awaited report for policymakers and regulators to consider as they begin to reform the decades-old legislative framework currently governing the communications industry.

Established in June 2018, the panel sought input from stakeholders through a call for comments and engaged with representatives from accessibility groups, official language minority groups and Indigenous communities to ensure that it was hearing from diverse perspectives.

During consultations the panel focussed on four broad themes: addressing the barriers to access to advanced telecommunications networks; encouraging the creation, production and discoverability of content by Canadians; protecting digital consumer rights; and revamping the communications industry’s institutional framework.

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Canada’s communications future: Time to act” contains 97 recommendations; here are some principal ones:

Ensuring that all types of media platforms are embraced by the law
The panel suggests broadening the scope of the law to apply to all media communications entities, whether foreign or Canadian, and regardless of whether they utilize online platforms or traditional means. Under this broader scope, foreign online providers will also be required to pay sales tax.

The panel also states that a new registration system should be established, under which media curation undertakings will contribute a portion of their program budgets to Canadian programs, while media content aggregators will pay levies. Streaming services operating in Canada should be required to invest in Canadian programming.

The panel then proposes a new financing model, complete with strategies expected to boost the quality and discoverability of Canadian content.

Transforming CBC/Radio-Canada into a public media institution devoted to public purposes
The panel recommends the gradual removal of advertising from CBC/Radio-Canada’s various platforms. It also suggests that the public broadcaster’s content be tailored to reflect the variety of communities, cultures and perspectives across the country.

Prioritizing the usersThe report recommends updating the legislative objectives to align with the ultimate goal of making communications services more affordable to users. To promote freedom of speech and innovation, the report encourages affordable access to broadband and user entitlement to an open Internet. It also underscores the importance of accessibility for Canadians with disabilities. It likewise recommends strengthening the protection of privacy and confidentiality of user information.

Accelerating the roll-out of networks
Due to the impending implementation of 5G in Canada, the report recommends accelerating  the roll-out of advanced wireline and wireless networks through granting access to all forms of public property for passive infrastructure; implementing a streamlined approach for approval of an expanded range of telecommunications equipment; and a more policy-oriented approach to spectrum regulation by the Minister, and an expanded regulatory toolkit, including for assigning spectrum.

Updating the name and role of the regulator
The report proposes more current terminology for naming the communications regulator and certain statutes. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission would be renamed the Canadian Communications Commission; the Broadcasting Act would called the Media Communications Act; and the Telecommunications Act would be called the Electronic Communications Act.

It also recommends that the CRTC employ a better research and analytic mechanism as well as receive more financial support from the government and greater participation from the public; and the establishment of a new Public Interest Committee.

Immediate action with regard to pressing issues
The report highlights priorities the government should immediately deal with, such as releasing the funding set aside for broadband expansion, and requiring now-exempt media content curators to contribute to Canadian content and pay sales taxes.

In a letter addressed to Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains and to Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault, panel chairwoman Janet Yale stressed the need for urgent action. “I encourage your government to move promptly to consider this Report and engage with Canadians to implement the necessary changes to ensure that Canada is positioned for success,” she wrote.

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