Milliken, M.C., University of New Brunswick
Recent years have seen tumultuous change in media markets and technologies as well as audience types and demands, and a “re-convergence” of broadcast and telecommunications technologies and policies (Winseck, 1998). In the hopes that Canada would become a worldleading ‘information society’ (Industry Canada, 2005), the Canadian federal government applied a neo-liberal determinist approach to technological, economic, social and political policies and programs it designed, and the public-private partnerships it formed (Sarikakis, 2004) to enable that agenda. However, recent studies disagree over whether or not Canada is internationally competitive in broadband access, a necessary component for the growth of the information highway. While the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ranks Canada high among developed nations (June 2009), an external report places Canada in the low-middle range of G8 countries when it comes to accessible and affordable Internet coverage (Benkler et. al., 2010). Limited broadband access means that people country-wide are excluded from Internet-driven social change happening in all sectors of society, including their publicly-funded institutions.
Culture has featured prominently in the discussions about the potential for the Internet as a site of social change, not only as a content creator but also as a transmission mechanism for existing cultural institutions. There has been a solid economic basis for Canada’s long tradition of activist cultural policies about traditional media, to ensure inclusiveness regardless of socioeconomic status or location, to provide the public good, and to help cultural industries be more efficient and profitable (Dayton-Johnson, 2002). However, a better critical analysis of the benefits of Internet-based culture for society is needed before policies to protect its development are given precedence over other public needs, such as health care and education (Dayton-Johnson, 2002).
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is Canada's national public broadcaster, subject to regulations administered by CRTC. The CBC has never met its obligation to provide universal service, regardless of geographic barriers and population distribution, across this vast country (Government of Canada, 1991); and it has struggled to meet the programming needs and demands of different demographic categories of the population. The broadcaster has been putting substantial resources into converging broadcast and new media services, and justified those expenditures by saying it reaches more Canadians (2009). Radio and television broadcasting has always been under regulation, but the CRTC decided first in 1999 and then again in 2009 to exempt New Media from regulation. To ascertain whether there is adequate policy support for the CBC’s aspirations to reach all Canadians by expanding is New Media services, we need a critical analysis of how the CRTC conceptualizes New Media “inclusion” and whether that conception bears any resemblance to the “universality” pillar of public service for traditional broadcast media. If there is inadequate policy support in place as the Harvard study suggests, the goal of the CBC to finally fulfill its public service obligation for universal service will remain out of reach.