The Future of New Media Cancon (1)

I’ve been working on a presentation for this Tuesday (Sept 22) as part of an Ontario Bar Association confab – New Media: The Emerging Landscape. I’m up for a 40-minute two-hander with Peter Grant. Our session is provocatively entitled The Future of New Media Cancon.

Two very different ideas are on a collision course in the phrase “new media Cancon.” On one hand, Cancon is a regulatory concept with a long, venerable history. It represents decades of painstaking work by the CRTC and others (like PG); it also represents the birth of the Canadian music, film and TV industries where none existed before.

On the other hand, new media Cancon is a contradiction in terms. When the notice was issued last October for the Commission’s 2008-11 proceeding, it was immediately evident this wasn’t going to be a “new media proceeding,” as everyone called it. It was a proceeding about broadcasting, designed to explore how the broadcasting industry could be spared the ravages of that disruptive technology called the Internet.

Then June arrived and the Commission released its decision. To my astonishment, the regulator declared: We give up! (I’m paraphrasing). And said it “fully endorsed” the NFB’s call for a national digital strategy. Right now, the Americans, especially the Obama FCC, are investing an enormous amount of brainpower in their version of such an initiative – their National Broadband Strategy. There’s a lot more to it than the $7.2 billion: big, inclusive public debates on mapping, benefits, bandwidth targets, network ownership models and lots more. And tomorrow, Chairman Genachowski is expected to launch a rulemaking process to establish a formal FCC framework for network neutrality, to codify the FCC’s Internet “principles” (the original 2005 policy statement, the one that has them in court with Comcast, is here – pdf). Meanwhile, have you heard about what they’re doing behind closed doors at Industry Canada with the applications for Connecting Rural Canadians? Neither have I.

As Commissioner Denton noted in his eloquent Concurring Opinion (which should be required reading for everybody in the business): “The essence of the Internet is innovation without permission” (see his s.4: The Platform for Innovation). Trying to control what happens on this intensely personal, open platform will help no one. What we need is a whole lot of letting go, not more reining in.

There’s no better way to outline the tasks ahead than to quote what the NFB’s Tom Perlmutter said to the Commission on February 25 (all hearing submissions are available here):

“We need to ensure that the infrastructure meets the needs of today and tomorrow — which means advanced digital networks, broadband and wireless. We need to cross digital divides between the digital haves and have-nots. We need to ensure broad-based digital literacy. We need rich Canadian content that is both multi-platform and cross-platform, and unique creations for specific platforms. We desperately need training for new modes of production. We need to evolve our business and financing models. We need to figure out how to create international digital co-production partnerships. We need to work at building strong digital brands that will capture the imagination of our audiences.

Most of all, we need a vision.”

D.E.

ps: Coincidentally, the OBA conference falls on the very same day as another milestone event. Happy One Web Day everybody!