Can you regulate the Internet? Or, perhaps, should you try to regulate the Internet?
That’s the question Canada’s telecom and media regulator (aka the CRTC) is hoping to answer during hearings that kicked off today. It’s a contentious issue with strong viewpoints on both sides, pitting content makers vs. ISPs, and the federal government vs. the people.
Since 1999, the CRTC has not regulated new media on the Web. At the time, it was the right decision, and today it still is the right approach.
The concept of trying to regulate the Internet to support national agendas – even if it’s dripping in good intentions – is misguided. The content genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no way to stuff it back in.
Rather than regulate content on the Internet, perhaps the focus should be on encouraging more competition within Canada’s high-speed Internet market. As it stands, the Canadian market is an oligopoly controlled by cable and telecom companies such as Bell, Telus, Rogers, Shaw, Videotron and Cogeco.
Despite efforts by competitors to get into the business by signing wholesale deals with the existing high-speed players, the market is still tightly controlled. This explains why high-speed penetration rates have stalled within Canada, and why Canada keeps dropping down the list of countries with the most high-speed penetration. At one time, we were second behind South Korea. Now, not so much.
The lack of competition has meant that high-speed prices continue to climb. After all, why not raise prices if you’ve got a captive audience willing to pay and pay. The profits made by the high-speed ISPs have clearly caught the attention of Canadian content producers who believe they should get a piece of action given they’re producing some of the content being consumed.
Whether they can convince the CRTC to see their point of view is left to be seen but, hopefully, all the talk about broadband in the coming months will shift the spotlight to the high-speed market and its competitive dynamics.
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