Harper’s CRTC dog won’t hunt.

It was like old times at the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hearing last Friday. You could see the anger rising in the commission chairman’s face. The only problem was that it was not the previous chairman Konrad von Finckenstein who had led the commission into the digital age of communications. It was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s choice of chair, civil servant Jean-Pierre Blais. Where von Finckenstein would have blown a gasket, Blais called a washroom break.

The witness Chairman Blais left at the microphone was American lawyer Corie Wright global public policy director for Netflix. The streaming video company is believed to have over two million Canadian customers and the regulating commission wanted lists and revenue figures. Until now the company has been operating under an exemption from having to supply competitive information on its Internet-based service.

What needs to be understood about this incident is that it was the Harper government that wanted Netflix exempted under an open Internet policy. At the same time the CRTC is charged with regulating the telecommunications and broadcast industries in Canada and Netflix has been operating at a considerable advantage over its Canadian competitors.

It is simple enough to understand. Bell Canada, for example, has a vast network today of fibre optics that enables it to supply high bandwidth service called ‘Fibe’ to customers for their telephone, television and Internet services. One of the services Bell supplies its television customers is a somewhat limited pay-per-view service. And say what you like about Bell, it does pay taxes and other charges to government to pay its way.

Netflix is an American  streaming video service that uses the broadband Internet service you are already buying as its carrier. Netflix bills you for access to the extensive Netflix portfolio.

The only problem is that as competition for Netflix grows and more bandwidth of the telephone and cable companies gets eaten up by video streaming, somebody is going to have to pay for the additional capacity required. And if money is to change hands, the government wants a share and the CRTC wants to get its fingers into the regulatory pie.

The good news for that lady from Netflix is that if she cooperates a bit with the chairman of the CRTC, she will find he is not that disagreeable. In fact, he is actually a bit toothless. He works for a Conservative ideologue and is not about to upset any commercial enterprises. And a little cooperation here with the Prime Minister’s friends at Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Telus, etc. will keep everything running smoothly.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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