Canadian telecommunications regulator reveals implementation plans for Online News Act

Canada’s telecommunications regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has outlined its timeline and strategy for implementing the federal government’s Online News Act. This move has stirred significant debate and drawn reactions from tech giants like Meta and Google. The newly disclosed plan indicates that compensation negotiations between digital giants and media organizations are expected to materialize over a year.

Progression of the Online News Act Implementation: Although Bill C-18, known as the Online News Act, was passed into law in June, its enforcement is still pending. The legislation was introduced to establish a bargaining framework compelling digital giants to compensate media entities if they wish to continue hosting Canadian news content on their platforms. In the coming months, the CRTC plans to initiate public consultations, and issue calls for proposals to appoint an independent auditor. This auditor will prepare an annual report evaluating “the impact of the Act on Canada’s digital news marketplace.”

Themes to Be Discussed During Consultations: 
The forthcoming public consultations will focus on several key aspects:

1. The mechanics of the bargaining and arbitration process.

2. Participating parties will adhere to the code of conduct during negotiations.

3. The criteria for determining the eligibility of news organizations.

4. Addressing complaints arising from platforms acting unfairly.

All feedback and input from these consultations will contribute to shaping the CRTC’s decisions and actions in implementing the Online News Act.

Framework and Mandatory Bargaining Process: By the summer of 2024, the CRTC plans to publish the framework and accompanying code of conduct. During this period, the regulator will also seek to identify qualified independent arbitrators and consider applications from news organizations seeking eligibility. Establishing eligible news organizations and arbitrators will pave the way for the mandatory bargaining process, overseen by the CRTC, which is anticipated to commence in late 2024 or early 2025.

Voluntary Agreements and Industry Concerns: The legislation includes provisions for voluntary commercial agreements to be reached without extensive government intervention. These agreements can act as alternatives to mandatory arbitration, potentially resolving the compensation dispute between tech giants and media entities.

Tech Giants’ Response and Regulatory Impact: While Meta’s decision to block Canadian news content and Google’s plan to remove links to Canadian stories remain unchanged, the Online News Act’s enforcement could lead to regulatory changes addressing these concerns. The tech giants have expressed skepticism about the legislation’s ability to resolve the underlying issues and structural challenges they perceive.

Ongoing CRTC Initiatives: In parallel, the CRTC is conducting consultations on Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act. This proposal will impose Canadian content requirements and regulations on social media platforms and streaming services like Netflix, Spotify, and Disney+. These platforms would be required to invest in Canadian content and creators.

As the implementation plans for the Online News Act take shape, the role of regulatory intervention in the digital landscape and its impact on media and tech entities continue to be subjects of intense discussion.

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