Geist: What might a competition-focused broadcast policy look like?

By Michael Geist for TheStar.com

As the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission concludes its hearing on the consolidation of the Canadian communications market into a handful of corporate giants (so-called vertical integration) and embarks on a “fact-finding exercise” on the impact of online video services, the only obvious conclusion from the hundreds of submissions and hours of debate is that Canada’s broadcast law framework is broken.

The Commission’s struggle to make sense of the changing corporate and technological landscape is rooted in a regulatory framework premised on scarcity rather than abundance. When the law was crafted, broadcasters occupied a privileged position, since the creation of video was expensive and the spectrum needed to distribute it scarce. As a result, the government established a licensing system complete with content requirements and cultural contributions designed to further a myriad of policy goals.

Yet among the more than 40 policy goals found in the current Broadcasting Act, the word “competition” does not appear once. The absence of competition may have made sense when there was little of it, but in today’s world of abundance featuring a seemingly unlimited array of content and distribution possibilities, fostering competition among broadcasters and broadcast distributors such as cable and satellite companies might hold the key to reforming the system. Read more »

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