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What’s the big deal about a Netflix tax?

If you’ve read the news recently chances are you’ve seen a lot of controversy swirling around the CRTC and some tax they want to impose on Netflix. You might be wondering why they’re attempting to do such a thing, or why this is such a big deal in the first place. Or even, most importantly, how will this affect you and your shows? So what’s the big deal? Let’s find out!

The CRTC mandate is derived from the Broadcasting Act  part of which states that “the Canadian broadcasting system should encourage the development of Canadian expression,” and it must do this through programming that reflects Canadian attitudes, displaying Canadian talent, and offering information about Canada and other countries from a Canadian point of view. This is the main issue swirling around the regulation of Netflix. The CRTC is at a gridlock with the company since it believes that it impedes access to Canadian content while promoting access to foreign content. Meanwhile, Google, also brought under fire by the CRTC, believes that Canadian content thrives online since content creators do not have to go through a third party to publish content, according to an interview done by the CBC.

But so what? Netflix isn’t Canadian and it’s not a broadcaster in the traditional sense. So why is the CRTC trying to get involved? For the answer to this we must look to precedent set in media technology. It’s hard to imagine a time where radio and television did not seem outdated, but at one point they were also new media. Upon their emergence the Canadian government was faced with the challenges of grappling with regulation, land rights, and content creation. 

The first radio station to be regulated under the Radiotelegraph Act of 1913 was granted a licence in 1919. In the following years this number increased dramatically, however there was a preference among listeners to tune into American stations. This sparked a discussion around Canadian content, and in 1932 the government assumed control over radio broadcasting and the airwaves through which it traveled. This was ridden with many problems and eventually resulted in partial private ownership of radio stations. With the advent of television, it too fell under this category of broadcasting after new legislation was passed. Radio was pushed to the sidelines and TV took over. For years it was feasible for Canadian stations to continue airing Canadian content as mandated by the CRTC, however, this eventually dwindled as audiences became increasingly interested in American TV. Find a full historical recount here.

Now, here we are in the 21st century and the internet and the various services provided through it remain completely unregulated. This includes the content that is put out by Netflix. This technology is evolving in a comparable way to how TV overtook radio. People are now streaming online more often than they are watching cable television, and regulatory bodies are struggling with this rapid growth in technology.

So what does this mean for you? Nothing… Yet. Before any sort of regulation or tax is put on Netflix or the various other online services you use there has to be a serious shift in language in legislation for this to become feasible. The only noticeable difference you might see is a lack of Canadian content when you fire up your Netflix account over changing the channel to CBC. So in the meantime, just kick back with a glass of rosé and dive into the next hour of your marathon. 



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