CRTC reluctant to police the Internet

New-media hearings under way in Ottawa

TORONTO -- Most Canadians have high-speed Internet access, but the country's TV regulator on Tuesday showed reluctance to impose a production levy on Internet service providers to help online Canadian content compete on the global stage.

Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, said at new-media hearings in Ottawa that the traditional argument that Canadian old media producers require production subsidies and shelf space to compete with U.S. network series in primetime TV did not apply to the Internet.

The CRTC chair argued that the Internet offers content abundance, not scarcity.

"You can post as much as you want. There's no limit on the amount (of content) that's there. If there's a limitation, it's about the price of access, not the capacity for access," he said.

Canadian TV producers already receive taxpayer subsidies to make programming for domestic prime time schedules otherwise dominated by U.S. network series.

Von Finckenstein rejected arguments offered by representatives from ACTRA, Canada's actors union, and the Canadian Conference for the Arts that similar shelf space be reserved online for Canadian content.

Representatives of Canadian cable and phone giants are expected to tell the CRTC during the new media hearings that they oppose a so-called ISP tax on their revenue to subsidize online Canadian content.

The CRTC in 1999 said it would not regulate the Internet, but is now revisiting that decision as Canadian producers compete in an increasingly borderless digital world.

After the new-media hearings conclude on March 8, the CRTC will issue a decision on possible Internet regulation.