The Telus “Big Debate” at nextMedia Banff

nextMedia Banff officially kicked off this morning with The Telus Big Debate: Canada’s Digital Future. The panel of digital experts consisted of Robert Montgomery, the CEO of Achilles Media, Sara Diamond, the president of OCAD, Michael Geist, digital activist and a professor at the University of Ottawa, Sunny Hands, an intellectual property layer and partner with Blake, Casseis & Graydon LLP, and David Neale, the Senior vice president of products and services for Telus Consumer Solutions.

The panel started with the question “if it were your decision, how would you address new media regulation?” The audience gave the idea of regulating new media a resounding “thumbs down”, reflecting the CRTC’s recent decision to take a hands-off approach to that very subject. 

Michael Geist pointed out that the internet isn’t television or broadcast, it’s an entirely different medium, and it can’t fall under the same framework. Sara Diamond agreed that not only should the internet not be regulated, but that it is imperative to create new ways  to fund new digital content to grow with the internet. Diamond also said that Canadian content shouldn’t have its own channel on the internet, but rather that support for production should be the focus, including co-production.

The reality, according to Hands, is that the CRTC simply CAN’T regulate the internet. The CRTC can regulate broadcast, but the audience for television and radio is slipping away towards online, and that the recent decision is in effect a “cry for help” since they can’t really do anything.

Hands said in terms of copyright, we need a “fundamental rethink” instead of revamping old laws. Diamond stressed the importance of protecting quotation and “remix” content, which as of now is technically in violation of copyright. Neale pointed out that while that’s true, there is very little actual regulation of mashup content in real world terms.

As the debate moved to sources of funding, most of the audience agreed with the idea of taking auction monies from wireless auctions and funding digital media. Geist went further and said that we need to tear down walls to keep foreign competition out, and that competition needs to occur in Canada, a wireless market which ranks just above Poland and Mexico in terms of innovation and service. In fact, Geist said, you only have to leave the country to see vibrant wireless markets in action. Needless to say, Telus representative Neale did not agree, and pointed to innovation at the “edge” with open source and other small innovators as the driving force, not the big wireless corporations. Hands also pointed out that by 2010 Canada will jump forward into a 3.5G to 4G wireless network, “amongst the best in the world” he said, and also said that framework is moving to an open unregulated space. Neale agreed and said shortcomings in the system get worked around by people using the technology, not through the carriers providing basic access.

When debating net neutrality, Geist pointed out that Telus (who funded the debate) engaged in content blocking (when the company blocked access for Telus users to a Telus employees union website), and that practice would be one of the first things he would speak against if he were arguing net neutrality in front of the CRTC.

Neale said that people assume the wireless companies want to throttle or stop access to content and services, but in fact they want to “load balance” not influence access to one set of content over the other.

The final word of the panelists addressed a new digital agenda for the Canadian government. Geist and Hands said that its a huge issue, and that it cuts across a number of ministries, so someone has to step forward and champion that agenda. Diamond said creating mechanisms to support innovation at the edge was important, and Neale said “don’t let the next set of auction funds go to digital media, not the automobile industry.”