5 key takeaways from the telecom report on Canada’s communications future

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OTTAWA — A new report suggests making sweeping changes to the country’s telecom watchdog and the public broadcaster — among other things.

The 235-page report on Canada’s communications future makes 97 recommendations. A panel led by former Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission head Janet Yale released the report after more than a year and a half of consultations and research.

The report calls for the CRTC to get explicit jurisdiction over even foreign-based entities offering electronic communications services in the country and for CBC/Radio-Canada to eliminate advertising on all platforms over the next five years.

Here are five other takeaways from the report:

Data collection

The report calls out “Big Data — the result of the massive amounts of personal information collected” by globally dominant online platforms. That data creates “tremendous value” for these companies, it said.

“We are convinced that stronger protections and rights for users must be established,” it said, adding the CRTC must be given the power to assert control over these providers and how they collect and use data.

It called for the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act to include consumer protections, and for the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act to be updated.

The use of this data involves a host of issues that transcend one body’s mandate, it found, and says addressing the implications of Big Data use “required a multi-dimensional, holistic approach to developing an effective and comprehensive legislative framework.”

The report deems this “an urgent task” that should involve Statistics Canada, the CRTC, the Competition Bureau, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner — if not also others.

‘Netflix’ and other taxes

The report makes it clear it is not recommending what’s become known as a Netflix tax, which charges customers more for providers to help support Canadian content.

“It is more appropriate to establish a regime that requires such online streaming services that benefit from operating in Canada to invest in Canadian programming that they believe will attract and appeal to Canadians.”

Instead, streaming companies would have to undergo a registration process, which would include an associated fee.

In addition, the report also recommends a “sales tax be applied equitably to media communications services provided by foreign online providers,” which is said would help disadvantaged Canadian providers.

The contributions from this can help with sustainable funding for a wide range of news sources, it said.

Fake news and other harmful content

The reports calls out online platforms that “created forums that enable the dissemination of harmful content, fake news and disinformation, and violent and extremist content.”

The government needs to act domestically and abroad, it said, by introducing “legislation with respect to liability for harmful content and conduct using communications technologies” and continue to participate actively to help develop international best practices with other countries.

A focus on affordability, especially for marginalized communities

The report stresses the importance of affordability and encourages pursuing that goal by fostering competition, a broader scope of regulation, more funding to support universal service, and having the CRTC study the issue regularly.

If necessary, the CRTC should “implement measures to improve affordability for those Canadians who may be marginalized due to intersecting factors such as race, gender, income, citizenship status, disability, sexuality or age.”

Additionally, it wants two acts amended to address accessibility for disabled people.

Acting now

The report understands new legislation takes time to develop and enact, but says “there are steps that can and must be taken now to address the most pressing and urgent issues.”

It calls for immediate action in three areas.

Those include rolling out announced funding for the expansion of broadband, requiring media content curators now exempt, such as Netflix, to contribute to Canadian content, and to start charging GST/HST equitably to foreign-based online providers.