TV issues could land on new MPs’ desks



You wouldn’t have known it from the election campaign, but issues related to telecommunications and media stand to figure prominently in the decision-making of parliamentarians in the coming term.

In the area of television, the CRTC has already decided that, starting next year, customers of cable, satellite and IPTV services will have the right to pick each channel one-by-one beyond a very basic package costing no more $25 a month. This is in contrast to past convention where packages were forced upon consumers containing dozens of channels they would never watch.

Many stations will not survive this change because not enough people will choose to subscribe to them, and this will create some job losses and business failures in the domestic -TV industry.

Another TV-related issue is the migration of consumers toward Internet-based video sources like Netflix and away from conventional TV-subscriptions.

The government doesn’t have to worry about big TV-service providers like Rogers, Shaw and Bell, even though they will lobby and/or litigate for any break they can get. These companies will take care of themselves, largely by exploiting the increasingly important Internet side of their businesses.

What politicians have to consider, however, is the extent to which government regulation should support the creation of Canadian TV programming and films. Currently, major TV-service providers have to contribute five per cent of their gross revenues toward the development of Canadian video content. In recent years, this regulation has generated almost $500 million annually.

However, this requirement only applies to the traditional TV industry, not the Internet operations of the same service providers or the companies that provide content over the Internet, like Netflix.

Early in the election campaign, the hated concept of a Netflix tax was discussed, with none of the three main parties wanting to be in any way aligned with such an idea.

But if current trends hold, Internet-based TV services — which do not have to contribute to Canadian content or adhere to Canadian content quotes — will become a bigger business, and subscription-TV services will become smaller, meaning less support for Canadian productions.

In the near future, House members might have to decide whether they need to tweak contribution rules to apply to newer sources of home-viewing entertainment — in other words, consider a Netflix tax — or whether to let those in the TV-content industry succeed or fail on their own merits.

Similar reasoning can be applied to deciding what to do with the CBC in the coming years. Decision-makers are going to have to determine, at some point, whether the public interest is served by prioritizing the CBC in government spending decisions.

Another issue that’s going to come up is the Internet of Things. Such innovation stands to create more personal convenience and business productivity. It also creates many more links between people’s personal space and the outside world, and facilitates the collection of exponentially more data about people’s personal habits that can be used by private enterprises and government.

The NDP made brief mention of this technology and its impact on privacy in its election platform, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is slated to release a report on the matter in the near term.

The Internet of Things and how it relates to privacy still falls short of being a typical kitchen-table issue. However, as this technology becomes more common, all it will take are a few highly publicized instances of baby monitors being hacked or household temperature-control systems being tampered with before MPs start getting phone calls.

There are other issues, of course. Both wired and wireless access to the Internet will become even more essential in people’s lives, and government will have to decide how far it should go in ensuring that private-sector access providers are dealing with the public in a fair manner. And there’s also the matter of people in rural areas and the North not getting the same level of connectivity to the Internet at reasonable prices as those in more populated areas.

Even more telecom and media issues are bound to confront this next session of Parliament, many of them seemingly coming out of nowhere. MPs would be well advised to appreciate the newness of it and govern carefully.

Derek Abma is editor of The Wire Report. He can be reached at dabma@thewirereport.ca.




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