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Canada moves one step closer to streamer regulation as Commons passes Bill

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party has taken another step forward in its quest to modernise the Canadian Broadcasting Act and bring online streaming services under domestic regulation.

Justin Trudeau

Bill C-11 (aka The Online Streaming Act) was passed by the Canadian House of Commons with a vote of 208 to 117. The Conservative Party opposes the proposed legislation, while the New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois support it.

The Bill will now advance to the Senate of Canada, where it will once again be reviewed and voted on.

The local TV industry in Canada met the news with cautious optimism, though enthusiasm is understandably muted after a similar Bill (Bill C-10) died at the same juncture less than a year ago.

The primary purpose of the Bill is to bring streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ under domestic regulation. However, critics argue that it also opens the door for regulation of user-uploaded content, which has ignited a fierce free-speech debate in Canada.

The Canadian Broadcasting Act has not been updated since 1991 and the local production sector has long argued that new legislation would allow it to be more competitive in a digital age.

At Banff World Media Festival last week, Ian Scott, chair and CEO of the Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), said the “system is broken” and urgently needs to be fixed through legislative change.

If the Bill were to be approved in the Senate and passed into law, it would then fall to the CRTC to create a detailed set of policies based on the new legislation. Assuming the proposed legislation becomes law before the end of the year, it will likely be another two years before the CRTC is able to fully implement a new policy regime that brings streaming platforms under Canadian regulatory oversight.

According to projections from the Canadian government, imposing contribution requirements on foreign-based streaming services would bring more than C$1bn (US$772m) of new money into the domestic funding system annually.

During a panel at Banff, Canadian media leaders said a key question that still needs to be answered is how that money will be used.

“If there’s a billion dollars up for grabs, who’s going to control it? Who’s going to access it? And what rules are there going to be around the use of it?” said Barbara Williams, executive VP of Canadian pubcaster CBC.


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