Timothy M. Denton

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Supporting obsolescence

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The CRTC's decision to support local television news is at once sensible and right from the logic of the Broadcasting Act, and slightly mad from any perspective not governed by that statute. It is right in that it allows broadcasters to shift subsidies from something truly obsolete (community television) to something which might have a few years left in it (local television news). Yet from outside the perspective of the Broadcasting Act, it is a bold decision to support more battleships in 1944 or heavy cavalry in 1905, or maybe more aircraft carriers in 2016.

The decision was justified - quite reasonably - in that local television news is more watched than community television, and it made good sense to switch subsidies away from the unwatched to the watched.

The issue illustrates the tremendous motive force that legislation imparts to bureaucracies. Legislation is that in which officialdom moves and has its being. The Broadcasting Act supplies the goals, the justifications, and the tools. From this perspective, the Internet is a bothersome intrusion into a closed universe. Community television is a kind of primitive instanciation of You Tube. Instead of a million hours of upload a month, from all over the world, there is a few hundred hours of upload a month, from a very small universe of suppliers. Local television news is an extremely limited news aggregator and content supplier for communities originally defined by broadcast contours. What are broadcast contours, Daddy?Those are 3 millivolt energy contours of radiated power that define the range of a "broadcasting" station.  What's a station? A station is the producer of a channel. What's a channel Daddy? Time for bed, kid.

My greatest concern is that the kind of thinking that the Broadcasting Act supports and encourages will collide with something really much more vast and important, such as the Internet, and some damn fool from the legal department of the CRTC will assert the primacy of the Broadcasting Act over the Internet because "that's the law". A majority of commissioners may nod their heads, and voila!, Canada will march down the path to strategic and technical obsolescence in the name of "Canadian content". I see no sign that this will not happen. I will let you know if I do.

 

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.

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Guest Tuesday, 12 November 2019
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