It won’t hurt a bit

Proponents of a tax on Internet connectivity to support Canadian programming production will never quit.

Their arguments are:

It should be done.

It will not hurt a bit.

1. It should be done. Canada has always supported cultural production from taxes, so why not this tax?

  • Internet service providers are not broadcasters, so there is a legislative problem and probably a constitutional one. Attempting to spread the Broadcasting Act – which says thou shalt not publish without permission of the state – to the Internet involves a massive expansion of the licensing power of the Canadian state over what is published, and will likely not survive a Charter challenge. Nor, shall I add, the popular revolt.
  • The tax is likely superfluous. The Internet allows a direct relationship between cultural production and the market. A very large number of hours of scripted television is under development, way more than the broadcasting era. The only explanation why risk takers are financing¬† more television development is that the Internet is now making possible a much more discriminating relationship between what is produced and what is watched than was possible in the pre-Internet era.

My advice would be to anyone: wait until we see what the dimensions of the problem are. If there is a specific problem that Canadian programming cannot reach a market, or even allowing, for the sake of argument, that Canadian entertainment programming should be subsidized more, let us see how this Internet-driven market works before we launch possibly futile gestures that enrich a small group of largely-Toronto based entertainment producers and their employees.

We are entering a period when we no longer need quasi-soviet methods of subsidizing television production, as we did in the past. (allowing for the legitimacy of subsidizing Canadian arts, which I do).

I once did a back of the envelope calculation of the amount of funds going to Canadian production through the various media funds and the CBC. If the CBC is about a billion and the media funds $600-$800 million, then something approaching the cost of a large destroyer is being spent every year on Canadian culture. The figures are rough. But if spent on the Navy, we would at least have a significant fleet.

2. It will not hurt a bit.

  • That very much depends on the size of the tax and the means whereby it is procured. If it is generated by trying to extend the Broadcasting Act over Internet Service Providers, that is the equivalent of dropping a nuke on a mouse: a vastly disproportionate extension of state authority over what we communicate to subsidize the production of television programming. (When I say television I do not mean “television” in the sense of the Broadcasting Act, I mean video entertainment sent over the Internet. Television has four syllables, the other, thirteen).
  • Remember the naval fleet we are not building, if you want to visualize the cost. Or remember the quality of most Canadian television programming, if you want to remember why you hate subsidizing more of the same.

That Prime Minister squashed the idea of an Internet tax shows that these guys are clever and value their survival.

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