Canada's Supreme Court Rules ISPs Are Pipes, Not Broadcasters

The landmark ruling means transmitters of online Canadian content should not be regulated as "broadcast undertakings" by the CRTC.

TORONTO – This should clear everything up: Canadian Internet service providers (ISPs) are pipes, and not broadcasters, in a wide-open digital age.

That was the ruling Thursday from the Supreme Court of Canada, which upheld an earlier Federal Court of Appeals ruling that “content-neutral” ISPs should not be regulated as broadcasters by the CRTC just because they transmit content.

The high court dismissed an appeal of the lower court ruling by a coalition of domestic producers, union and guilds who looked to CRTC regulation to create an ISP levy earmarked for Canadian content production online.

The one-page Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled the federal Broadcasting Act, which regulates broadcasters, does not encompass “entities who merely provide the mode of transmission."

Because ISPs have no control over programming, they cannot be deemed broadcasters, the ruling stated.

“ISPs provide Internet access to end-users. 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 high court ruled.

The debate over the role of ISPs in distributing Canadian content goes to the heart of the Canadian industry's role on an emerging and growing Internet filled with global content.