Subsidies sought for new media


OTTAWA -- Canada's broadcast regulator on Feb. 22 was urged to order domestic Internet service providers to subsidize homegrown new-media content production.

Peter Grant, an entertainment lawyer at McCarthy Tetrault, told a gathering of Canadian indie producers that the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission should impose a levy on ISPs to support indigenous new-media production.

"The CRTC should recognize that new media, especially the Internet, are now a significant part of the Canadian broadcasting system, and that ISPs and cell phone companies are now acting as BDUs (broadcast distribution undertakings) that should subsidize domestic production," he told a digital media panel.

Grant said Canadian broadcasters had begun to make content for the Internet. But absent financing from a foreign partner, homegrown Web sites and other new media content was unlikely to find footing online.

"Lacking a foreign broadcaster to cover most of the cost, high-quality Canadian production for the Internet needs to be financed in Canada, and except in limited circumstances the market is not large enough for Internet platforms here to support these kinds of efforts," Grant argued.

He said the proposed levy on ISPs would provide around $75 million annually to make Canadian new-media content.

The subsidization call was backed by a Harris/Decima poll released Friday by Canadian producers, unions and guilds that indicated 69% of Canadians polled said ISPs should be required to help fund the production of Canadian digital content.

The call also came as the CRTC is getting set to review its 1999 decision not to regulate the Internet, and in particular ISPs.

But Maria Hale, vp content at Telus, a domestic phone giant and ISP, warned against tampering with the open access consumers expect from the Internet to further Canadian TV policy goals.

"To say we somehow will dictate and have control over how people are using the bandwidth and tie that to the Broadcasting Act, is a bit of a leap," Hale told the Canadian Film and Television Producer Association's Prime Time conference in Ottawa, which wrapped Friday.