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Former CRTC commissioner testimony to the Senate: Bill C-11 is a ‘power grab over human communications’

On Wednesday, September 14, 2022 the Senate heard testimony that Bill C-11 will regulate user content across all platforms on the internet from YouTube to TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and including private messaging apps such as Whatsapp, Telegram and Signal to name a few.

“C-11 declares all audio and visual content on the internet to be broadcasts,” said Denton. 

“It’s a kind of reverse takeover of the internet. The tiny Canadian broadcasting system can take on the world of the internet by the mere trick of redefining ‘broadcasting.’ C-11 is that bold and that absurd.”

“It captures virtually all online audio and video,” said Denton. “(This bill is a) power grab over human communications across the internet and therefore deserves our distinct disdain.” 

The CRTC would be able to effectively control the online content that Canadians upload under Bill C-11. According to the government, the Broadcasting Act will be updated as a result of this legislation, requiring major tech corporations like Facebook to pay for Canadian content. However, the law has been roundly criticised as a violation of free speech by professionals in the field.

Bill C-11 is trying to adapt new technology to fit the old and to of date Broadcasting Act instead of adapting the Broadcasting Act to new technology.

“The internet establishes a worldwide market in programming, video, sound and everything else,” said Denton. “It exists. It is the main and real thing in the world today.”

“Essentially Bill C-11 is a scheme to try to make things that are utterly different and somehow give them the same regulatory treatment,” said Denton. “The internet does not really need regulatory treatment and the broadcasting system needs to adapt to the internet, not the internet to the Broadcasting Act.”

“It captures virtually all online audio and video,” said Denton.

Denton also explained how Internet streaming is not broadcast using two basic features of broadcasting as his examples.

“The first which C-11 retains is that you broadcast by permission of the state. Broadcasting is a lincenced activity and the CRTC is the licencing authority.” said Denton adding “The second is a set of characteristics business and technical that limited who and what broadcasters were. Those characteristics were largely based in the scarcity of radio waves. C-11 eliminates those characteristics nearly completely.”

The reason for the Broadcasting Act to begin with was to address the limited number of radio waves limiting how many speakers would be available with one way traffic which in turn limited the choices audiences had to choose from.

“The assumption that justified broadcasting regulation was that very a few speakers would have a captive audience of many tens of thousands of listeners. And later then viewers.” Denton told the Senate, “The direction of traffic was one way. The audience had highly limited choices.”

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has made a consistent claim the law would note regulate user-generated content In testimony before the House of Commons, the current CRTC head Ian Scott acknowledged that said content will be subject to the regulatory framework.

“[Section] 4.2 allows the CRTC to prescribe by regulation user uploaded content subject to very explicit criteria. That is also in the Act,” said Scott.

“The commission could, for example, issue certain rules with respect to discoverability, could perhaps issue rules…to respond to certain concerns on accessibility.”

Following the hearings on Wednesday, Michael Geist, a professor and chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, wrote a blog post about the problems with Bill C-11.

“The effect of significant new regulatory costs on these (big tech) services is likely to spark one of two responses: some services will simply pass along the costs to consumers in the form of new Cancon surcharges, while others will likely block the Canadian market altogether,” wrote Geist. 

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