The trouble with history, is that we only ever take one path.
Many Canadians wrongly believe the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has protected them from big bad American media companies that would gut Canadian culture. (The CRTC’s lofty mandate is to ensure “Canadian content, its development and availability to Canadians”.)
The current battle between Netflix and the CRTC is just a skirmish in a long war the CRTC has been fighting against modernity.
I have presented before the CRTC on two occasions and I can confirm the CRTC does much more damage than good.
The CRTC has blocked many technological advancements and slowed Canada’s progress on many others. It has denied Canadians full participation in the information economy and continues to cause havoc.
Canada is the most sparsely inhabited developed economy in the world. No developed country is more dependent on linking its people together than Canada. So it’s ironic that an agency entrusted with protecting Canada’s culture is so damaging to the industry that is essential to its conveyance.
For example, I was invited to present to the CRTC in the early 1990’s where I begged them to allow competition for phone companies. At the time I was the founder of a information technology startup that relied heavily on long distance telecom. Canadians were paying several times more per minute than Americans, who were benefiting from the breakup of AT&T a decade earlier. As a result of years of desperate protest by companies like Unitel (a brave Canadian pioneer) and my own humble efforts, the CRTC relented and competition came to Canada a decade after it did in America.
How many hundreds of millions or billions of dollars did Canadian consumers lose because the CRTC dragged its feet on competition? How many startups died on the vine or were never started? How much commerce never occurred? We’ll never know.
Several years later I was contacted by one of the big game console manufacturers. The company wanted to deliver “American” made video games to households across the Canadian cable TV networks. The CRTC effectively stopped this technology from reaching the market. Within a few years, the Internet provided this capability. Canadians could have been ahead of the curve, but instead they never saw this technology. Jobs were not created in Canada and innovation didn’t take place, because the CRTC created a vacuum.
Perhaps the biggest price Canadians have paid has been invisible. A price paid in the form of services they never heard about or were never released in Canada.
Today Netflix is in the CRTC’s cross hairs. Netflix is being bullied by the CRTC to release its user data and to block Canadians from using proxy servers to access content they are not supposed to see in Canada.
Netflix has rightly said it won’t comply with the CRTC’s requests, but it’s early days and we can’t know what crushing forces the CRTC will bring to bear. A court case seems imminent and the fate of Internet TV in Canada may rest in the feeble hands of bureaucrats and judges.
To be clear, the future of Internet TV will not be decided by a Canadian civil servant or a Canadian judge. The world will continue to move forward. At issue, is whether Canadians will be leaders or followers.