Canuck high court: ISPs unlike b’casters

Says Internet service providers should not have to adhere to same rules as broadcasters

Canada’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the argument that Internet service providers should be treated like broadcasters and forced to adhere to the same rules that govern local TV networks.

Several of Canada’s cultural unions and guilds had petitioned the court in an attempt to make ISPs that offer download or streaming services, including Bell and Rogers, to follow Canadian content and funding regulations.

“When providing access to the Internet, which is the only function of ISPs placed in issue by the reference question, they take no part in the selection, origination or packaging of content,” the court stated.

It’s a blow for actors union ACTRA, the Canadian Media Production Assn., the Directors Guild of Canada and the Writers Guild of Canada, which originally brought the question to the Federal Court of Appeal in 2009. That court also ruled that the ISPs were not “broadcast undertakings.” The cultural groups argue that the broadcasting rules are technology neutral — in other words it doesn’t matter if a TV show is being shown on a TV network or on the Internet, the same rules should apply.

The coalition says it will still press for all involved in broadcasting to contribute to Canadian production.

The TV networks have to follow Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission rules that force them to finance local production and give shows significant airtime.