Proposed Broadcasting Act update gives CRTC ‘flexible powers’ to regulate online platforms

The legislation would essentially force services like Netflix and Spotify to support Canadian content

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has tabled a proposed bill amending the Broadcasting Act that would give the CRTC new flexible powers to regulate online platforms.

The legislation was tabled on November 3rd, and includes amendments that would “empower the CRTC to implement a modernized broadcasting regulatory framework to ensure both traditional and online broadcasting undertakings contribute in an appropriate manner to the Canadian broadcasting system.”

The legislation notes that if the CRTC requires online broadcasters, such as Netflix and Spotify, to contribute to Canadian content at a similar rate to traditional broadcasters, then their contributions to Canadian music and stories could amount to up to $830 million by 2023.

Documents provided to reporters reveal that the CRTC is “to be given express powers to require broadcasting undertakings, including online undertakings, to make financial contributions to support Canadian music, stories, creators and producers.”

The Act gives the CRTC power to impose fines on broadcasters for violations. Fines could be up to $25,000 for a first offence and $50,000 for following offences.

Further, the bill creates a new category to the Broadcasting Act called an “online undertaking.” The government has clarified that “undertakings, whether carried on in whole or in part within Canada, that transmit programs over the internet, including on an on-demand basis, fall within the scope of the Act.”

This means that the regulation would not apply to social media services or content posted by social media users, news outlet or video games.

The documents outline that as the revenues of online broadcasters grow, they are not required to contribute to Canadian music and storytelling, and that the support system for Canadian content is at risk and puts traditional Canadian broadcasters at a competitive disadvantage compared to online broadcasters.

It’s important to note that the bill does not include measures to impose taxes on streaming services, which Minister Guilbeault has promised.

The government notes that this proposed bill is an important first step, but that further reforms will be required to fully modernize the broadcasting system.

Minister Guilbeault will issue a policy direction to the CRTC to outline the kind of regulation the government is expecting. 

Image credit: @StevenGuilbeault