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Regulate the Internet? Ha!

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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  • http://www.hilesfiles.com Michael Hiles

    We can see how well it’s worked for China.

  • http://www.markevanstech.com Mark Evans

    Michael,

    Right, I forgot about China and the Great Fire Wall. Not sure the CRTC wants to follow that route. :)

    Mark

  • Michael Bevan

    Great summary Mark. Just saw this link on the Globe’s live blog for the CRTC hearings. Hope things are well.

  • http://www.socialsquared.com Jess Sloss

    Well said. It’s even more ridiculous when mobile is brought into the equation.

    Here’s to stalling the development of clean, innovative and world leading businesses.

    Keep up the borderline work CRTC.

  • http://www.techsmb.ca Ben Lucier

    Mark,

    Great points, I agree with you RE: additional competition.

    However, I doubt we will ever see a major national player turn up that will build facilities in the ground in order to compete with Bell.

    Today, competitors to the ILECs: Bell, Telus, SaskTel, MTS and other incumbents are called CLECs (competitive local exchange carriers) and unfortunately, none of them have the $$ to deploy a large enough network to make a dent in the major ILECs’ business.

    So, if Canada is lacking in broadband competition, and consumers are tied to the major ILECs (even at the wholesale level), the question is, how do we give consumers the fastest, most unrestricted access to the Internet to foster innovation and give businesses (large and small) the tools for success?

    Sadly, it’s a complicated answer unfortunately as it will be very difficult for the CRTC to tell the major carriers HOW to manage (read: throttle) their Internet services.

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  • Bram Abramson

    Mind you, this proceeding isn’t just about the Internet.

  • Wayne

    It sure seems to me like the internet is already regulated. In fact the first W is gone from WWW.

    Have you tried accessing Hulu from Canada? Sorry!

    What about watching shows on NBC.com? No way!

    We are being censored but it is currently by the media content owners rather than the CRTC.

  • Brent

    People will always find a way around whatever barriers are put into place. This is a fact of life. Freedom will prevail.