Canuck ISPs are not broadcasters, says court

Ruling could thwart local efforts to create an ISP levy

TORONTO -- A Canadian appeals court has ruled Internet service providers (ISPs) are pipes, and not broadcasters, in a wide-open Internet or wireless phone world.

The decision could thwart local efforts to create an ISP levy earmarked for Canadian content production online.

The Federal Court of Appeal ruled that ISPs, led by Bell Canada, Telus Corp., Rogers Communications and Shaw Communications, cannot be considered broadcasters under the federal Broadcasting Act, even if they allow access to streaming video by their subscribers.

"Because ISPs' sole involvement is to provide the mode of transmission, they have no control or input over the content made available to Internet users by content producers and as a result, they are unable to take any steps to promote the policy described in the Broadcasting Act or its supporting provisions," the court said in its decision.

"Only those who "transmit" the "program" can contribute to the policy objectives," the ruling added.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada's broadcast regulator, earlier asked the court to rule on the eligibility of ISPs as broadcasters as it weighed the ISP levy proposal from industry producers, unions and guilds.

The ISPs contend their content-neutral Internet service falls outside the Broadcasting Act and comes under the federal Telecommunications Act as providing access to video is not the same as broadcasting video.

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.

Content producers earlier urged the CRTC to recognize and regulate new media, something the regulator has so far resisted, and to define ISPs and mobile phone providers as broadcasters.
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