In case you haven’t heard, a Canadian government agency, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), has now been given the power to regulate podcasts. There are a lot of details but Sonja Raath, “Canada’s Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11) explained,” ExpressVPN, April 29, 2023 does a nice job of explaining them. I think Raath’s bias is clear–it’s the same as mine, which is to favor freedom of speech and freedom for consumers and producers to choose–but she lays out the facts clearly.

I remember living in Winnipeg in 1970 when I happened to turn on the radio and hear a member of Parliament give an impassioned speech against the Canadian content laws that were being proposed (and were subsequent enacted) to require large percentages of Canadian content on radio and TV. In short, the CRTC has been doing this for over half a century.

In 1971, an American friend of mine at the University of Western Ontario, Danny Steinberg, asked me if I thought the motive for the regulations was censorship or protectionism. I answered that it’s both. While it was explicitly about protectionism, it was censorship to achieve protectionism and, given the way governments think, it was probably also censorship to achieve censorship in its own right.

As fewer and fewer people watch TV and listen to radio and, instead, turn to streaming, the government has now taken the next step: extending the regulation to the Internet.

I regularly read a Substack about Canadian politics called The Line. As best I can tell, its politics are somewhat left of center, but what’s refreshing is how factual the authors are and how they are quite willing to criticize Prime Minister Trudeau and his many failings. They went at this one yesterday with all guns blazing. One of the regular writers, Jen Gerson, titled her post “Do Not Comply.” In making her case, she also lays out how this regulation is likely to grow and become more intrusive. I strongly recommend her whole post.

A great excerpt:

We will note that C-11 was initially billed as a bit of legislation aimed at “web giants,” and there was no plan to put “user generated content” under the CRTC’s authority. The regulator is sticking to this talking point, insisting that users themselves won’t have to register.

Indeed, only companies that generate more than $10 million per year will be subject to disclosure. The Line, for example, is (far, far) too small to qualify. Rather, the CRTC is going to capture companies like Spotify and Apple Podcasts and YouTube.

“Oh, so not nice independent media like you!” say our dear readers. Oh, sweet, sweet summer children.

She goes on to lay out the likely fact that Apple Podcasts and others, when people complain to the CRTC about The Line‘s content, will likely quit publishing that content. She writes:

The end result is a chilling effect. Goodbye candid, freewheeling conversation and F-bombs, everybody. No one will risk offending Canadian sensibilities if it means the risk of losing access to Spotify et al. Remember, these aren’t hobbies, even for relatively small media producers. Revenue from our content is how we pay the mortgage.

And there’s a worse outcome to consider: that largely American distributors may simply opt out of all Canadian content rather than fall under the aegis of the Broadcasting Act. This is the choice Meta made, and your Facebook feed is already feeling it.

Further, she writes:

At its inception, the logic of a Broadcasting Act was rooted in scarcity. Radio and television stations rely on over-the-air broadcasts — frequencies of electromagnetic spectrum — which are considered a public good to be allocated wisely by a public regulator. Too many stations all using the same frequency in too confined an area would muddy reception.

Digital media doesn’t work like this. There is no finite digital bandwidth that requires public managing or allocating. Quite the opposite, in fact. Digital space is largely a private good, limited only by constraints on private capital — which, in practice, amounts to virtually no scarcity at all. Digital bandwidth is, effectively, infinite.

On her point in the first paragraph, both the late Ronald Coase and Thomas W. Hazlett could give her a run for her money, with Hazlett being way more detailed about the history of the FCC, the U.S. counterpart to Canada’s CRTC. There was never a good case for allocation by a government regulator.

And this is a great paragraph:

To paraphrase Douglas Murray in his recent Post column: people who think it proper to shut the bank account of a Freedom convoyer while applauding a literal, actual Nazi in Parliament have neither the intelligence nor the moral credibility to regulate the information we consume.

I love one of her final paragraphs:

To fellow my content creators, and the companies that serve them: don’t register with the CRTC. Civil disobedience is not only appropriate in this case, it’s necessary.