Modular media

A radical communication and cultural policy for Canada
July 1, 2016

Photo by Chris McVeigh

The media economy in Canada is large, complex and growing fast. Total revenue quadrupled, from $19 billion to $75.4 billion, between 1984 and 2014. Wholly new media have been added to the scene, beginning with pay TV and mobile wireless services in the 1980s, then Internet access and Internet advertising thereafter, while cable, satellite and IPTV (Internet protocol television) services grew greatly. These are now the core sectors of the broadband Internet and mobile wireless–centric media order. Today, if content is king, connectivity is emperor. 

While some media are growing fast, the growth of the network media economy has generally been sluggish since the global financial crisis of 2008. Some media have stagnated, especially those that are advertising supported (e.g., broadcast TV, radio). Still others appear to be in decline, such as basic telephone service, newspapers and magazines. Newspaper revenue plunged from $5.6 billion in 2006 to $3.7 billion in 2014, with no end in sight to the trend, although some displaced journalists have planted the seeds of promising new journalistic ventures (think iPolitics, Canadaland, the National Observer, etc.). We must also keep in mind that several media recently thought to be at death’s door—books, the music industry and postal services—have made a comeback. Oftentimes, “old media” don’t so much as die as get remade for new times. 

These crosscutting trends have sparked an intense battle over the institutional arrangements that will define the network media economy in the decades ahead, and perhaps for much of the 21st century. While none of the political parties said much about such matters in their election platforms, the new Liberal government in Ottawa has put three parliamentary reviews into motion since taking office: one on the state of the media and journalism, headed by MP Hedy Fry; a top-to-bottom review of broadcasting, arts and culture policy spearheaded by Heritage Minister Melanie Joly; and a third, canvassing views on the future of Canada Post, led by Public Services Minister Judy Foote.

On top of this, the CRTC came down with four landmark rulings last year that have roiled the industry, largely because the rulings stem from a common concern: high levels of concentration in certain broadband Internet, mobile wireless and TV markets. The commission also just wound up its comprehensive review of whether the idea of universal, affordable basic telecoms services available to all Canadians should be expanded to include broadband Internet access and, if so, at what standards of speed, quality and affordability. And it is currently examining whether mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs)—a type of competitor that doesn't own its own networks, but buys wholesale access from others to offer services in the retail mobile phone market—should be given a greater chance to enter the market. MVNOs like Ting, Freedom Pop, and many others in the U.S. and Europe, offer discount, no-frill cellphone service targeted at people who would otherwise probably not have a cellphone at all. They are non-existent in Canada.

Of final import, the CRTC has just launched a review of the future of common carriage, or as it is better known these days, net neutrality. The details of such things can make eyes glaze over, but the essence of the principle boils down to this: those who own the
“pipes” should not be permitted to unjustly discriminate between or influence the meaning or content of the messages, apps and services that flow through them. All of these efforts offer enormous opportunities for good things to happen, but also for much mischief, especially if those lobbying the new government day and night get their way. (Bell alone lobbied MPs and departments 32 times—nearly twice a week—from the time the new Trudeau government assumed power in November until the end of March.) 

A range of vested interests have grown up around the telecoms and broadcasting systems, and they are pressing hard to shape things in the direction they want. Creative and production-oriented groups in the broadcasting industries, such as the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA), the Writers Guild of Canada (WGC) and the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, want content quotas and cross-subsidies kept, but also an update to the “cultural policy toolkit” so that it includes Internet service providers (ISPs), mobile phones, Netflix and other over-the-top (OTT) services like Rogers and Shaw’s co-owned shomi and Bell’s CraveTV.

The “Big Five” telecoms and media giants (Bell, Rogers, TELUS, Shaw and Quebecor), along with their hired guns and think-tank allies at the C.D. Howe, Fraser and Montreal Economic institutes, however, argue the days of the broadcasting system are done. All eyes must now be on the “digital eco-system,” they say; markets are fiercely competitive because everyone is being forced to compete vigorously across this system instead of within just a few media industries as in times past. More urgently, these groups assert that even the biggest companies in Canada are but lightweights thrown into battle with unregulated global Internet behemoths Apple, Google, Facebook and Netflix—a digital free-for-all of global proportions is playing out in our own backyard.  

Yes, we live in an age of information abundance, not scarcity, and the regulatory regime must reflect this reality. A hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Netflix had about four million subscribers in Canada in 2014; four-and-a-half times that number have a Facebook account, which they use to stay in touch with family and friends and to share the news. 

Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post and Vice now produce original journalism. According to the most recent Statistics Canada data, there’s about the same number of journalists in Canada today as there were in 2000 (roughly 12,000), which is significantly more journalists than were working in the 1980s and 1990s. The proportion of freelancers to full-time reporters, however, is way up (see Nora Loreto’s story in this section). And whereas there were four people working for the “spin professions” (public relations, marketing, advertising) for every journalist in 1987, today the ratio is 8:1, and the pay gap between the two has grown greatly in favour of those with something to sell over those producing the news we need to know.

The sheer magnitude of the information environment can also be expressed in the number of outlets: in 2014, there were 695 licensed TV services operating in Canada, 1,107 radio stations and 92 paid daily newspapers. Most Canadians have a smartphone and a broadband Internet connection, and by global standards we use them a lot to communicate with one another and to access all manner of content.  

Given this vast “digital eco-system,” the “separate silos” approach set out in the Telecommunications Act and Broadcasting Act is out of sync with the lay of the land. The C.D. Howe Institute argues the system should be brought under general competition law; funding and promoting Canadian content might remain the bailiwick of the CRTC and Department of Canadian Heritage, but the Competition Bureau should take over for everything else. Continue to fund the CBC, argues the institute and industry, but keep it on a short leash to stop it from competing with commercial media in new Internet news and entertainment markets. Cancon funding should also be limited to what the market will not support and done out of the general public purse versus the Byzantine system of cross-subsidies that now exists.

Dig deeper into the weeds of this advocacy and vitally important new terrain emerges. The rules must change, say these groups, to reflect the baseline fact that all the major telephone companies (except TELUS) now own the country’s biggest TV services (this is vertical integration). If these entities want to bundle TV services together in exclusive packages tied to Internet subscriptions, mobile wireless or cable services, so be it. Doing so will foster dynamic competition between well-resourced rivals (the “Big Five”) and the global Internet giants. If mobile wireless operators and ISPs want to act like broadcasters (or publishers), exempting services like Bell’s Mobile TV or Videotron’s Music Unlimited from the data caps and expensive overage charges they apply to everything else sent through their pipes, why not? The practice is known as zero-rating, and its supporters argue that people benefit from the “free” or steeply discounted services on offer. Moreover, zero-rating can be used to subsidize poor people’s access to the Internet and mobile phones, and to advance cultural policy goals by zero-rating Cancon while applying data caps to “foreign” content, for example.

On this last point the major players make common cause with the CMPA, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, WGC and so forth. All agree that zero-rating Cancon while applying data caps to “foreign” content is a great way to advance cultural policy goals. They also agree that the telcos and ISPs should put their thumbs on the scales in favour of the “national rights market” by blocking access to foreign content that Canadian companies have bought the rights to exploit inside our borders. This means Canadian Netflix subscribers who use VPNs (virtual private networks) to tap into Netflix’s U.S. catalogue could find those connections blocked, and indeed Netflix has begun to do just that. Pirate websites should also be blocked, say these groups. They may as well be asking to build higher walls around the nation, with fewer doors—a retrograde cultural nationalism for the 21st century.

The marriage of convenience between Canada’s industry giants and culture warriorsbreaks down, however, over proposals to treat ISPs and mobile wireless operators as broadcasters under the Broadcasting Act. Cultural policy advocates like the idea because currently the largest source of funding for Cancon is the Canadian Media Fund (CMF). Most of this money comes from cable and satellite TV operators who pay 5% of their annual revenue—just under half a billion dollars—to support Canadian TV programming. Based on their relative size, turning ISPs and mobile wireless carriers into broadcasters would multiply the CMF fourfold. Presto! Whatever woes now afflict broadcast TV entertainment and journalism would vanish, apparently. Those pitching this idea say it’s only fair because people use the Internet and smartphones to watch TV, and since some of the value of their Internet access and wireless subscriptions comes from such activities they should be tapped to support Canadian television.

The CRTC, Federal Court of Appeals and Supreme Court have rejected this idea for nearly two decades. The telcos and net neutrality advocates, mortal foes under most circumstances, also think that using broadband access and wireless carriers to prop up the “broadcasting system” is a bad idea. The assumption that, were it not for TV programs produced by the cultural industries, ISPs and wireless carriers offer little more than a connection between blank screens is also offensive. It rests on crude measures of Internet traffic that fail to distinguish completely between the value of a simple text sent between lovers, for example, and the huge bandwidth used to deliver the latest episode of Orange is the New Black.

Things might be fine if those pushing to update the “cultural policy toolkit” by dragging everything into it could just be left to their quixotic pursuits. Alas, the issues are more complicated because the telcos appear to only reject being defined as broadcasters to avoid funding Cancon. Otherwise they are pressing the CRTC and Federal Court of Appeals, and lobbying the government, to be permitted to be broadcasters in order to be able to bundle and discount services across the digital eco-system as they see fit. This would allow them to act as carriers in one moment, broadcasters the next, with the line between each known only to the “Big Five.” Thus, if Bell and Videotron wanted to create mobile TV or streaming music services and to treat such activities as broadcasting (to evade charges of unfair discrimination under common carriage rules), all to boost their subscriber numbers and ARPU (average revenue per user), that would be fine. That choice should be left to “the market,” not regulators, they say. Because in the all-encompassing “digital eco-system” there should be only one set of rules, and those rules should flow from competition law—not the values, laws or lessons of communication history.

Neither the media companies nor the cultural policy groups seem to give a damn that Canadians loathe data caps and the expensive overage charges they entail. Nor do they seem to care that using data caps along the lines they propose would constitute a thinly veiled way to regulate people’s speech by economic means. Both groups want to use public policy to maintain systems—one cultural, one economic—and neither has any sense that we are talking about creating the information infrastructure and communications universe of the 21st century. Both turn a blind eye, or worse, sneer at the values and history that animate the common carrier (net neutrality) concept. Values like fairness, freedom of expression for those who subscribe to broadband access networks (versus those who own the pipes), privacy, creating common technical standards (so people can put together the networks, services, content and apps as they see fit, like a giant set of Lego building blocks), and competition.

Following either of the “systems maintenance” views would bury a new layer of controls into communication networks that collides with how people use and think about the Internet and their phones. Few other ideas would do more to turn people off—to delegitimize from the get-go—a renewed cultural policy agenda fit for the digital age. We need to fight these ideas with all our might.

From the “systems view” to “Lego-land” 

We need to think about the broadband-centric media ecology differently. Instead of “systems,” I propose we look at things modularly, or as a big set of Lego building blocks whose parts can be unbundled and snapped together in many different combinations. As Catherine Middleton observes, as the broadband Internet has evolved, it has become easier to separate the access network from the growing number of apps, content and services available over it. While it may have been desirable to bundle content and carriage together at one point, as with cable TV, those days are numbered as people “cut the cord” and turn to the Internet to get the content and services over broadband links from wherever they want. Adopting the “Lego-land” view is especially important because of the vertical integration mentioned above. The “Big Five” accounted for 63% of total revenue across the network media economy in 2000; fast-forward to now and their share of the vastly bigger pie has grown to nearly three-quarters of total revenue.

 Of course, there are crucial exceptions to this general finding, such as radio, magazines and Internet news sources. Canadians now get their news from a wide plurality of outlets old (CBC, Postmedia, The Toronto Star, CTV) and new (Huffington Post, Buzzfeed), domestic and foreign (BBC, ABC-Yahoo!, The Guardian U.K., The New York Times). Other core elements of the Internet, however, are highly concentrated, including mobile and wireline broadband networks, search engines, online advertising, browsers, operating systems and social networking sites (see the CMCR Project report, Media and Internet Concentration in Canada, 1984-2014, for the technical details).

Concentration levels in TV have soared in the past five years after three major deals transformed the TV landscape. In 2010, Shaw bought the Global TV network and a stable of specialty and pay channels from the bankrupt Canwest, giving the company 50 TV services as well as its concurrent ownership of Corus Entertainment. Bell’s acquisition of CTV and Astral Media, in 2011 and 2013 respectively, furthered the trend. Bell now accounts for more than a third of all revenues in the TV industry, with more than 70 TV channels including CTV, CTV News, TSN, RDS, HBO, the Discovery Channel and more, and 106 radio stations in 54 Canadian cities. Together, Bell and Shaw alone account for well over half the TV market. Add the CBC (19.6%), Rogers (10.2%) and Quebecor (5.4%), and the “Big Five” TV ownership groups account for 90% of all revenues.

These conditions are not unique, since media concentration around the world tends to be high. Where Canada does stand out, though, is in its extremely high levels of vertical integration. In 2014, the top four vertically integrated (VI) companies (Bell, Rogers, Shaw, QMI) held a 57% share of all telecom, Internet and media revenues, which is twice what it was a half decade earlier (see graph). This represents a significantly higher level of vertical integration than in the U.S., where the top four VI companies (AT&T/DirecTV, Comcast, Charter, including Time Warner and Bright House, and Cox) combined account for 40% of market revenue. The degree of vertical integration in Canada also topped the list of 30 countries studied by the International Media Concentration Research Project.

 Table 1: Vertical integration in the Canadian media economy, 2014

Table 1: Vertical Integration in the Canadian media economy 2014 

As for the idea that the fierce competition posed by the Internet goliaths offsets the market power of Canada’s dominant players, Google, Facebook and Netflix’s combined share of all media revenue in Canada was less than 4% in 2014.  

So it’s not just conjecture to point out that concentration and vertical integration levels are high in Canada. It is a conclusion of fact, based on the available data, and also reached in several CRTC rulings last year. The consequences of this state of affairs are significant. For example, mobile wireless markets in Canada are underdeveloped by comparable international standards, prices per gigabyte (GB) on wireless and wireline broadband networks are high and speeds are good for mobile wireless networks (but modest for wireline relative to comparable international peers). Adoption levels are moderate for the latter, but very low for the former (mobile phones), with Canada ranking 32nd out of 40 OECD and EU countries, alongside Mexico, Turkey and some Eastern European countries.

People in Canada are voracious users of the Internet and all kinds of media, and have been this way for some time. Still, they must carefully measure what they watch (and in what definition), and what they do with these vital tools of modern life, because of the high cost of a GB and the prevalence of relatively low data caps on wireless and wireline networks. 

Restrictive data caps reflect the high levels of vertical integration in Canada and serve to protect the vertically integrated giants’ broadcast operations from streaming services like Netflix. Just a few weeks ago, in contrast, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the U.S. approved the takeover of Time Warner Cable and Bright House by Charter, but on condition that it not use data caps for the next seven years in order to remove barriers to the further development of OTT video services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and unbundled services from CBS, Viacom, HBO, the NLB and so on.

The CRTC provisionally blessed data caps in 2009, but since then they have gone from being used sparingly to manage Internet congestion to become a lucrative new stream of revenue for Bell, Rogers, TELUS and Videotron (Shaw advertises but does not apply data caps). Canadians loathe data caps and the expensive “overage charges” they entail. Data caps send the totally wrong message that somehow we are using “too much Internet.”

While Shaw distinguished itself on this point before a recent CRTC examination of basic telecoms services that all Canadians should be entitled to at affordable prices, it was discouraging to hear Bell, TELUS, MTS, SaskTel, Eastlink, and the small telephone companies that still operate across Canada, talk about the need to scrimp on how much Internet people use and the speeds that should be available. Thus, while Europe and the U.S. forge ahead with ambitious targets in this regard, the vision of incumbent telecoms operators and ISPs in Canada is wholly uninspiring. 

The heavy reliance on relatively low data caps in Canada constrains what and how people watch TV, listen to music, communicate with one another over the Internet and mobile devices, and work. As such communications become an ever-more important part of human experience, and a critical infrastructure for society and the economy writ large, this is a huge problem.

Return of the state and zombie free markets

Instead of standing idly by, regulators, led by the CRTC, have taken steps that aim to change the lay of the land in some fundamental ways. As I’ve written elsewhere, the CRTC, with some strong aiding and abetting by the Competition Bureau, and backstopped by policy wonks at the federal government, are: 

Unbundling the Network: Partially. Hesitantly…. Slowly turning from a systems and broadcast-centric view to a Lego-land, telecoms-Internet-mobile-wireless-centric view of the world—skinny basic, untied streaming TV services like shomi and CraveTV, and pick-and-pay TV are just the start.

The CRTC and the last government made the high levels of concentration in mobile wireless, broadcast distribution undertakings (DBUs) and television a centrepiece of their proceedings and policies, rediscovering market power, and took some forceful steps to do something about it. At a minimum, the new Trudeau government must do the same. Regulators have also rediscovered the crucial Section 27 of the Telecommunications Act, which bans unjust discrimination, applying it in three recent cases: the wholesale roaming investigation (2014-398), the wholesale mobile wireless decision (2015-177) and the mobile TV ruling (2015-26).

The first case found that wholesale mobile wireless roaming rates were “clear instances of unjust discrimination and undue preference,” banished exclusivity provisions in wholesale roaming agreements, and opened a wider examination into wholesale mobile wireless services that fed directly into the second case. In that wholesale mobile wireless decision, the CRTC reasserted its authority to regulate wholesale mobile wireless facilities and rates, set temporary caps on rates, and set out follow-up steps that will lead to new rules for how these rates are determined. Finally, the mobile TV decision did four things: 

  1. Found that Bell and Videotron were giving themselves “an undue and unreasonable preference [by] providing the data connectivity and transport required for consumers to access the mobile TV services at substantially lower costs…relative to other audiovisual content services”;
  2. Concluded that this was bad for competition, the development and growth of new OTT services, and for consumer-citizens;
  3. Drew a sharp line between transmission (common carriage) and broadcasting (content), thereby forcing Bell, Quebecor and Rogers to bring their mobile TV offerings into compliance with some of the common carrier principles flowing from Section 27 of the Telecommunications Act; and
  4. Acted on a meticulously researched complaint by Ben Klass, a citizen and PhD student at the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University.

That the previous federal government’s actions, and ongoing regulatory interventions in the market, are substantial in Canada is beyond doubt. But they are also not unique. We have seen the “return of the state” in many countries. In the real world, the effective operation of “real markets” depends on the rule of law and the firm hand of independent regulators, back-stopped by, yet independent from, politicians, policy-makers and the ministers who want to see good things happen. 

The recent direction of events runs counter to the vertically integrated firms’ “walled garden” or “information control” models of operation. Having banked on such a model (and with the banks, especially RBC, holding significant ownership stakes in most of the key players), they are pushing back forcefully against efforts to change it. You can see it in Bell’s recurring editorial interventions in the country’s biggest TV and radio news media outlets; the legal appeals to recent CRTC rulings (e.g., mobile TV, wireless code, and Superbowl sim sub); a petition to cabinet to overturn the CRTC’s forward-looking ruling on wholesale access to fibre-to-the-doorstep (recently rejected in a crucial test of the Liberal government’s thinking on these matters); the threats of capital investment strikes; and a bevy of other efforts that aim to turn back the tide.

But while the CRTC has rediscovered the no-undue-preference clause of the Telecommunications Act(Section 27), that section is unfortunately immediately followed by Section 28, which says that exceptions to the rule are permitted when they advance the goals of the Broadcasting Act. This puts the best bits of the telecoms act at war with itself and risks subordinating telecoms (broadband Internet) to broadcasting. This is precisely what the allied forces behind zero-rating Cancon think should happen. We need to drive a stake through the heart of such ideas. 

The waffling at the CRTC related to these two sections runs counter to the common carriage principles upon which the open Internet and mobile phones are built—principles found in Section 36 of the Telecommunications Act that come to us from the days of Roman roads, Venetian canals, the Taxis family courier service in medieval Europe and common law traditions on both sides of the Atlantic. The act states, “Except where the Commission approves otherwise, a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.”

While one might argue that Section 36 is the crown jewel of the act, regulatory hesitancy seems greatest on this point. This is evident in its almost complete lack of use during a time when those who own the “pipes” are inextricably intertwined with the ownership and control of messages. It is also evident in the exception carved out for overriding this principle if it meets some ill-defined objectives of the Broadcasting Act. It is time to wheel Section 36 out of storage and make it the central principal around which the entire Internet and mobile wireless–centric universe revolves.

Five moderate suggestions, one big idea and one radical reform 

The CRTC decisions that kick new life into Section 27 of the Telecommunications Act are to be applauded. The same goes for the willingness to constrain the power of vertically integrated companies by loosening their grip on the basic building blocks of the network media ecology, including spectrum, wholesale wireless and fibre-to-the-doorstep access points and roaming rates, data transport and content. Movement toward strictly drawing the line between carriage and content is also great. However, much more can be done.

Like what, you ask? Here are five modest suggestions.

  1. Eliminate Section 28 of the Telecommunications Act, which states: “The Commission shall have regard to the broadcasting policy for Canada set out in subsection 3(1) of the Broadcasting Act in determining whether any discrimination is unjust or any preference or disadvantage is undue or unreasonable in relation to any transmission of programs.
  2. Eliminate Section 4 in the Broadcasting and Telecommunications acts so that both pieces of legislation can talk to one another. We don’t need new legislation, and any attempt to create it will only ensure interminable delay and special (corporate) interest pleading. Concepts such as the “digital eco-system” should be rejected out of hand as self-interested fabrications—of limited use as high-level metaphors, maybe, but not as a guide to analyzing media markets, or a model for how to think about needed policy, law and regulatory reforms.
  3. Breathe new and vigorous life into Section 36 of the Telecommunications Actby firmly separating control over infrastructure from influence over the messages/content flowing through the “pipes.” In other words, sharpen and harden the line between carriage and content. Any proposals to put a levy on ISPs and mobile phones to fund Cancon should be given a stillbirth. While the entrenched clients of the broadcasting system never miss a beat to promote “the ISP tax,” their ideas are out of sync with the tastes of the people. They are anti-Internet and prolong a “systems” view of the world that conceals a murky labyrinth of cultural policy funds flowing from one pocket to another, often between divisions within the vertically integrated companies.
  4. Impose vertical separation along functional lines between carriage and content, and between wholesale access to passive network infrastructure and network operators and retail telecoms service providers.
  5. Transfer authority over spectrum from Industry Canada to the CRTC, take advantage of the CRTC’s expertise in communications regulation and reject proposals to transfer jurisdiction to the Competition Bureau and all-purpose competition policy. (The CRTC and Competition Bureau should nonetheless continue to work closely together.)

And here’s a bigger idea: we should eliminate the category of broadcast distribution undertakings (BDUs) upon which the cable, satellite and IPTV industry rests. It’s all telecom-Internet access and carriage now. The equivalent amount of funds currently funneled into the Canadian Media Fund by the BDUs should be taken directly out of the general treasury, and perhaps topped up a bit.

More generally, we need to bring subsidies for broadband connectivity into line with funding for the CBC and Cancon. Currently, the CBC receives $33 per person per year, with nearly three-quarters of that amount again for arts and culture at large. Broadband subsidies, by contrast, are a comparative pittance at roughly $2.25 per person per year. I doubt the Canadian public would chafe at upping the broadband subsidy to somewhere between what Sweden spends ($5 per person per year) and what the CBC receives. 

Any bid to pare back the CBC and other arts and culture funding should be dismissed outright. People have never paid the full costs of news and culture, and this is why throughout modern history it has been sustained by subsidies from advertising, governments and wealthy patrons. We need to consider subsidizing independent journalism in ways that do not just put public money directly into the pockets of the existing newspaper groups that have driven the press into the ground through endless consolidation, inflated asset values and unsustainable debts. How this can be done effectively is hard to say. For starters, though, we can take some cues from a recent study by the Reuters Institute and Oxford and Yale universities, which finds Canada could be doing much more with tax law to mobilize philanthropic support for the press as in other countries. 

As for my radical proposal, consider this: why not merge Canada Post with the CBC to create the Canadian Communication Corporation (CCC)? Just think of what you could do with such a new Crown corporation:

  • Operate as the fourth national mobile wireless carrier;
  • Blanket cities with open access, lighting up the vast stock of underused and unused municipal dark fibre;
  • Extend public Wi-Fi in cities across Canada, and broadband access to underused and unserved people in rural, remote and poor urban areas;
  • Create, disseminate and make public art and culture as accessible and enjoyable as possible; and
  • Fund all these activities from the general treasury, not the opaque intra- and inter-industry funds that now exist.

The original goal of the U.S. Post Office was to bring “general intelligence to every man’s [sic] doorstep,” while serving as a heavily subsidized vehicle for delivering newspapers to editors across the country free of charge. Canada took a more frugal view of things; correspondence at a distance and newspaper growth relative to the U.S. suffered as a result. Taking these lessons to heart, a CCC could be to the broadband Internet and mobile wireless–centric world of the 21st century what the U.S. Post Office was to the world of letters and print. 

The CCC could repurpose some of the CBC’s existing spectrum holdings and broadcast towers for mobile wireless service coast-to-coast-to-coast. Real estate could be combined and used to locate towers; local post offices used to sign up new mobile phone subscribers and sell devices. Postal workers are giving some thought to renewing the post office, but have not ventured into this territory—yet. Informal discussions with some Canada Post senior executives suggest they’ve heard similar ideas before—and are not inherently hostile to them.  

With three official government proceedings underway to explore different aspects of Canada’s media environment, could we broaden the terrain to include a fourth? Or perhaps roll them all into one big, countrywide conversation on the future of communication in the 21st century? Is it time we finally discussed #RadicalMediaPolicy4Canada?

Dwayne Winseck is a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University with a cross appointment at the Institute of Political Economy. He is Director of the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project and regularly participates in public policy and regulatory proceedings related to telecoms, Internet and media issues.

This article was published in the July/August 2016 issue of The Monitor. Click here for more or to download the whole issue.