Canadian regulator outlines implementation timeline for contentious online news law

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Rachel Aiello
Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter

Canada’s telecommunications regulator has unveiled its timeline and plans for implementing the federal government's contentious Online News Act, revealing that bargaining over compensation set to be more than a year away.

While Bill C-18 became law in June, promptly sparking Meta to bloc Canadian news and threats from Google to follow suit, the law is not yet in force.

The Online News Act was designed to create a bargaining framework that would require digital giants to compensate media organizations if they want to continue hosting Canadian news content on their platforms.

Starting this fall the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will hold public consultations and issue calls for proposals for an independent auditor that will be tasked with preparing an annual report on "the impact of the Act on Canada’s digital news marketplace," according to the plan announced Thursday.

WHAT IS CRTC CONSULTING ON?

Those being invited to participate in the coming consultations include impacted parties and industry representatives from news outlets, social media sites, search engines, industry representatives, as well as Canadians.

Up for discussion as part of these consultations:

  •  How the bargaining and arbitration process will work;
  •  The code of conduct parties will follow for negotiations;
  •  The eligibility process for news organizations; and
  •  Addressing complaints when platforms act unfairly.

"All comments received will form part of the public record and will inform the CRTC’s decision," the agency said in a release on Thursday.

FRAMEWORK BY SUMMER 2024

Then, starting in summer 2024 the CRTC says it will publish the framework and accompanying code of conduct. Around this time, the CRTC also plans to "recruit qualified independent arbitrators, consider applications for eligibility from news organizations, and begin information gathering."

Once the eligible news organizations and arbitrators have been established, this work will then culminate in the mandatory bargaining process beginning. This phase will be overseen by the CRTC and is expected to start in late 2024 or early 2025.

There are provisions within what was formerly known as Bill C-18 to allow for voluntary commercial agreements to be reached with minimal government intervention at any time, framing the mandatory arbitration as "a last resort."

WILL REGULATORY CHANGE HELP?

In the absence of a negotiated deal being reached that could see regulations put forward that would address the tech giant's concerns around compensation, Meta's blocking of Canadian news content is expected to continue. The company has not ceded to political and public pressure in recent days to reverse its policy given the heightened importance of public access to information as wildfires ravage parts of the country. 

Similarly, Google has vowed to remove links to Canadian stories from its Search and other products ahead of the Act coming into effect, writing in a blog post at the time Bill C-18 became law that the government hadn't given them "reason to believe that the regulatory process will be able to resolve structural issues with the legislation." 

The CRTC is currently working through consultations on Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, a similarly controversial proposal to force increasingly popular and profitable social media platforms and streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify, and Disney+ to adhere to Canadian content requirements and regulations comparable to traditional broadcasters.

That proposed policy change comes with a requirement for platforms to spend millions investing in Canadian content and creators.