The BTLR Panel (the Panel) issued its long-awaited report on 26 June, 2019 setting out the key themes that emerged from the call for written submissions that it issued last fall. The Panel received more than 2000 submissions from interested parties prior to January 11, 2019 filing deadline.
It has been widely reported in the media that the report provides little insight into the recommendations that the Panel is scheduled to make to the federal government in early 2020. Instead, the Report only provides a concise summary of the written submissions that were received.
It covers many of the broad themes that were outlined in the Panel's call for submissions, including several key telecom issues, such as economic regulation of telecommunications, broadband deployment in rural and remote communities, use of passive infrastructure to expand networks and net neutrality.
The Report also summarizes proposals made in respect of a number of broadcasting and media issues, including: the creation and production of Canadian content, discoverability, diversity within media, local news, the role of the CBC/Radio-Canada, the rights of digital consumers and developing an institutional framework for addressing copyright piracy.
Some near-consensus items are identified in the report, such as ensuring affordable access to high-quality networks, reflecting net neutrality principles in legislation and applying sales taxes to foreign content providers, but the parties were often at odds as to how and, in some cases whether, to amend the legislation to implement proposals for change.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Panel's report was the reaction it received from the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism. In a tweet that was posted shortly after the Report was released, the Minister indicated that the federal government will be ready to legislate once it receives the Panel's recommendations. He also stated that the government intends to ensure that larger online services will be required to contribute to the creation and promotion of Canadian content:
Everyone has to contribute to our culture. That's why we'll require web giants to create Canadian content + promote it on their platforms.
As with most pronouncements of this nature, the devil will be in the details. While the commitment to make web giants create Canadian content and promote it on their platforms is no doubt music to the ears of many parties that filed comments with the Panel, it is not clear whether "Canadian content" means that these web giants will have to satisfy the same definition of "Canadian" that traditional broadcasters currently do. It will also have to be decided whether the contribution to the creation of Canadian content will be at level that will be comparable to expenditures made by Canadian broadcasters today (i.e. 30% of the previous year's revenues). In terms of promotion, it is unclear whether this would mean that some form of quota for Canadian content would be imposed on online platforms or whether the mechanism would merely require certain Canadian programs to be highlighted on a platform to assist in their discoverability.
Presumably, these details will be worked out after the fall election. Perhaps when the Panel issues its final report and recommendations in January 2020, the specific steps the federal government will implement to require web giants to create Canadian content + promote it on their platforms will come into focus.
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