Court rules ISPs not subject to CRTC rules and levies

MONTREAL — It’s a fair bet that Leonard Katz, acting head of Canuck broadcast watchdog the CRTC for just three weeks, can’t wait for the authorities to find a new topper to take the job off his hands.

Canada’s Supreme Court last week ruled that Internet services providers are exempt from the country’s 1991 Broadcasting Act, confirming the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision.

This means that, unlike commercial channels and pubcaster the CBC, ISPs do not have to abide by Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission rules about funding local content or devoting airtime to it.

Actors union ACTRA and the broadcasters says the CRTC should force new-media outlets to follow those rules.

“Broadcasting is broadcasting and that includes online broadcasting,” said ACTRA national executive director Stephen Waddell. “Online broadcasters should provide shelf space for Canadian programming and contribute to Canadian broadcasting.”

The TV nets share Waddell’s view. CTV, for example, wrote to the CRTC last year to complain that “Canadian broadcasters and (distributors) continue to be weighted down by regulatory obligations, while foreign online broadcasters have no such requirements.”

ISPs maintain they have no control over their customers’ choice of content and so are exempt.

However, this could change if operators start Internet branded TV services. The Appeals Court warned “that if ISPs begin to actively make content decisions and lose their neutrality, they might be subject to regulation.”

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case raised by cable and satellite operators who argue that they should not have to pay a monthly fee to carry over-the-air networks including CTV and Global.

The networks lobbied the CRTC to get this fee, pleading that they were strapped for cash as a result of the changing broadcast biz.

However, since then, there have been major mergers and now all three main commercial TV networks are controlled by distribs — Bell owns CTV, Shaw owns Global and Rogers owns City-tv.

Katz must deal with this situation until the government finds a replacement for former CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein, who stepped down in late January at the end of his five-year term. Katz has been vice-chairman of the regulator since 2007.

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