Various Groups Ask for Extensions to CRTC “Consultations” on Online Streaming Act

Multiple organizations of different opinions on the Online Streaming Act are asking the CRTC to extend some of the consultation deadlines.

Earlier this month, Canadian regulator, the CRTC, published their consultation schedule, showing that enforcement of the Online Streaming Act (formerly Bill C-11) wasn’t going to happen overnight – a point we made back in February. While it is more or less cold comfort knowing that changes won’t happen until, at absolute earliest, late 2024, this is a consultation process, not a delay tactic. So, there are other aspects at play, here.

While there’s a number of consultations scheduled for later this year, there’s actually a stack that was scheduled for Spring of 2023. That’s, uh, basically now. When it comes to handling complex topics, you need time to discuss the details further. So, in response, various organizations of multiple perspectives on this law are asking for timeline extensions. From their jointly signed document:

This procedural request addresses the deadlines announced by the CRTC on 12 May 2023 in Broadcasting Notices of Consultation 2023-138, -139 and -140, and is being filed jointly by the following 12 parties: Canadian Broadcast Museum Foundation (CBMF), Digital First Canada, Forum for Research and Policy in Communications (FRPC), FRIENDS/Les AMIS, National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA/ANREC), OpenMedia, Public Broadcasting for the 21st Century (PBC21/DPC21), Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), Quebec English-language Production Council (QEPC), Conseil provinciale du secteur des communications du syndicat canadien de la fonction publique (SCFP) and Unifor.

The CRTC’s notices of consultation announced the following overlapping deadlines for the
Implementation proceedings:
12 June 2023 Interventions – 2023-139 (Registration regulations)
Interventions – 2023-140 (Exemption orders)
27 June 2023 Interventions – 2023-138 (Modernized framework)
Replies – 2023-139
Replies – 2023-140
12 July 2023 Final replies – 2023-139
Final replies – 2023-140
20 November 2023 Public hearing – 2023-138

This request asks the CRTC to grant an extension of deadline for the interventions, replies and final replies in the Implementation proceedings which still provides time for the CRTC to add materials to the public record in these proceedings. It does not ask for changes to the date of the 20 November 2023 public hearing, and provides time for the CRTC to issue determinations on two of the three notices should it wish to do so.

The applicants provide the following grounds for their procedural request:
a. The interconnectedness of the 2023-138, -139 and -140 proceedings requires parties to develop a coherent framework for all three proceedings,
b. The current deadlines provide inadequate time for parties to consult and to undertake necessary research, thereby weakening the record of these proceedings, and
c. The absence of the policy direction from Cabinet creates uncertainty as to the recommendations that parties may reasonably make.

The document is especially interesting thanks to the fact that organizations who were opposing the legislation in the first place, such as Digital First Canada, CIPPIC, and OpenMedia, are agreeing with organizations who were pushing for this legislation such as FRIENDS and Unifor. So, even those who are pushing for this bill are seeing the deadlines as inadequate time to prepare for these consultations.

The public request is being seen by observers as the CRTC’s first test in terms of whether or not their commitment to the public is actually a thing or not. From Michael Geist:

Each of these issues alone should be sufficient to extend the CRTC’s unnecessarily short timelines which simply do not allow public interest groups from across the policy spectrum to participate effectively in the Bill C-11 process. This runs directly counter CRTC Chair Vicky Eatrides statement earlier this month on her professed desire for broad participation:

We encourage everyone to participate in these consultations and to share your ideas so that, together, we can design the broadcasting system of the future.

Former Chair Ian Scott was confronted with a comparable issue in 2018, when consumer groups requested an extension in the deadline for the creation of a consumer Internet code. When Scott refused, the groups boycotted the process. The 2018 CRTC decision left a stain on Scott’s leadership that was never fully erased as doubts about the fairness toward consumer groups under his mandate persisted for years. While there is no realistic option to boycott the Bill C-11 consultations, Eatrides faces a similar test. Creating an uneven playing field for public participation by refusing the deadline extension request would signal that the new CRTC is the same as the old one, lacking in independence, beholden to legacy lobby interests, and uninterested in broad public participation.

Indeed, the legislative process has been very anti-public up to this point. Concerns have been voiced for years that then called Bill C-11 would be a disaster for those posting user generated content. Requirements to rank government certified “Cancon” over everyone else including what the government finally admitted was “unofficial Cancon” raises very serious questions about the compatibility such requirements have to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to freedom of expression. What’s more, the government doesn’t even seem to know what is and is not “professional content” (i.e. if someone generates revenue from a YouTube channel, does that count as “professional content”?) Similarly, what impact does “directly or indirectly generates revenues” mean specifically?

Up to now, such concerns that the law were responded to by the government as little more than “misinformation” and went entirely ignored. As a result, the process has been almost exclusively closed off from the public and left to legacy interest groups and corporations who were more interested in ensuring that they will get preferential treatment over everyone else.

So, in the end, the track record has already been abysmal. There’s little reason to believe that the CRTC would be any different. Indeed, the CRTC has had a change with the Chairperson and the new Chair, Vicky Eatrides, has said that she wants public input on this law. Well, now she’s got it. Everyone is now waiting to see how she responds. Is this a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” or will things actually be different with the new chair? The answer now lies with how the new chair responds to this request.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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