After ten years of refraining from involvement, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has turned its sights again on the Internet – not just to regulate data traffic, but arguably to regulate the creation of online content itself.

Having decided on a ‘hands-off’ approach at governing content on the information highway back in 1999, the CRTC currently is holding hearings on the question of whether a fund should be set up to develop Canadian content online – paid for through a levy on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that surely will be passed along to consumers and business users.

Controversy at the hearings will center on the question of whether the CRTC should be stepping in and playing an influential and regulatory role within the new media/Internet sector.  Insofar as large pockets of the Internet have remained untouched by government intrusions in the past, the nature and character of Internet content has developed into something different than that of traditional media.  The expressed concerns of independent producers and artist groups such as the Alliance of Canadian Cinema Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) or the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) are compelling in their depiction of Canadian content being washed away in a flood of potentiality for non-Canadian content, yet, while considering the reality of these worries, one must take account of the value in keeping the Internet as an organic medium, free from restrictions that want to make it conform to traditional notions of cultural and commercial value.

Perhaps ISPs should stop whining and get used to the responsibilities they have as the bulk-providers of new media content?  I think the issue is more complex.  The CRTC’s move to levy a charge on ISPs to fund a program to develop Canadian content online mirrors the CRTC’s Canadian content efforts regarding traditional broadcasting and merely recognizes the significance of the Internet on our culture.  I am all for the funding of Canadian artists and producers, but the notion of Internet content regulation seems to me essentially idealistic, whimsical, and in fact, quite fantastic.  Not to mention unattractive, because it is dampening innovation.

On Tuesday, Alain Pineau, the national director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts made the claim that ‘broadcasting is broadcasting whatever the distribution platform.’  I disagree, not only on the basis that this generalizing notion is a slap in the face to many of the great media theorists of the last century, but also, and more practically, it disregards the unique character of the Internet and its nearly limitless potential.  One must be very careful to see the big picture here.