Also seeks power to fine broadcasters that don’t follow rules, rather than withdraw licences

Canada’s telecommunications and broadcast regulator wants the ability to fine broadcasters who don’t play by the rules, as well as more power over the placement of wireless infrastructure, its chairman told a Senate committee Tuesday.

Ian Scott, the head of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, proposed the changes during a presentation to the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications, which is studying how to modernize communications laws for the internet era.

Legislative changes are needed to reflect broadband’s importance as more people use the internet to consume media and communicate, Scott said.

“This internet thing is really catching on and we’re going to have to do something about it,” he said.

The CRTC’s main challenge on the broadcast side is to encourage the production and promotion of Canadian content, Scott said. Broadcasting rules designed 50 years ago require radio and television operators to contribute a percentage of revenue to such content, but this amount has stagnated as consumers access content online and traditional advertising and subscription revenue falls.

Yet the CRTC didn’t recommend bringing new players such as Netflix into the existing framework. Instead, it wants the ability to make flexible deals with individual parties that ensure they contribute, whether it’s to local news, French language original programming or television production.

The CRTC’s only concrete legislative request on the broadcast side was for the ability to issue administrative monetary penalties to players that don’t respect their obligations. As it stands, the CRTC can revoke a broadcaster’s licence if they don’t comply with obligations, but that process takes a lot of time and money, Scott said.

Revoking a licence is also an empty threat to digital players. They operate without licences thanks to the digital media exemption order passed in 1999. When questioned by senators on whether striking the exemption would be helpful, Scott said it’s not that simple. Operators must be Canadian to get a licence, so the CRTC can’t technically license major content providers such as Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime.

“We’re not persuaded that the traditional regulatory approach or an identical regulatory approach is the right one,” Scott said.

On the telecommunications side, the CRTC requested more jurisdiction over the placement of wireless equipment. The volume of antennae is expected to balloon as telecoms build 5G networks, which will require hundreds of thousands of small cells affixed to office buildings, lampposts, newspaper boxes and bus shelters.

Finding sites for these cells can be tricky due to competing jurisdiction and interests between telecoms, municipalities, provinces and the federal government, Scott said. The CRTC asked for legislative changes that would allow it to resolve disputes over where to put this passive infrastructure.

“The Government of Canada has already acknowledged that shared responsibility over this passive infrastructure presents challenges for the efficient deployment of 5G,” Scott said.

“I cannot overstate the importance of fixed broadband Internet and 5G. This infrastructure could give Canada a competitive advantage.”

Scott also called on the new legislation to enshrine the principle of net neutrality, a concept similar to common carriage that calls on internet providers to treat all content equally.

However, he cautioned lawmakers not to be too prescriptive so the rules can adapt to changing technology.