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opinion

The logo for Google LLC at the Google Store Chelsea in Manhattan, New York City, Nov. 17, 2021.ANDREW KELLY/Reuters

In Canada, our highly dynamic and intensely competitive communications market is subject to extensive regulation, which is driven home every day for Bell and our facilities-based competitors across all facets of our operations. In contrast, global giants Google and Facebook – despite being dominant market leaders in Canada’s digital ad space – are almost entirely unregulated.

It comes as little surprise, then, that Google Canada is now speaking out against Bill C-18. The government of Canada’s proposed legislation would require global digital platforms, including Google, to reach fair commercial deals with Canadian news providers for linking to online news content, including local and national news from broadcasters such as CTV and Noovo.

What is surprising is that, based on a recent blog post, Google appears to be following a similar playbook it has already used unsuccessfully in Australia in response to legislative measures aimed at supporting domestic news organizations.

More specifically, Google is playing up concerns that Canada’s Online News Act will lower journalism standards, spread misinformation, break the internet as we know it and give regulators unprecedented (even dangerous) influence over Canadian news.

These criticisms are misplaced, disingenuous and highly exaggerated.

While Bell supports minimum regulation of competitive markets, it has become clear that additional regulatory oversight is the best way to ensure Canadian news publishers, in both broadcast and print, are able to continue reflecting the interests, concerns and perspectives of Canadians through local, national and international news coverage.

By setting the stage for a regulatory framework that requires massive digital intermediaries to pay Canadian news organizations for content they use on their platforms to generate billions of dollars in revenue, Bill C-18 levels a playing field in a way that will help ensure the survival of Canadian news.

How? As with the Australia Bargaining Code implemented in 2021, the legislation will encourage global digital platforms to reach fair commercial agreements with Canadian news organizations and support a more sustainable news ecosystem, a system hanging by a thread because of the massive shift in advertising revenue to digital giants. If commercial negotiations fail, a market-based arbitration process will be available as a backstop.

In no way does Bill C-18 compromise or weaken journalistic ethics or probity. Eligible news organizations will for the first time be able to reach negotiated agreements with Google and Facebook so that these digital giants pay for news that appears on their platforms, content that helps them generate massive revenue at zero cost to themselves. The only impact that Bill C-18 will have is to ensure that Canadian news providers continue being able to provide the news. It is beyond credibility to suggest that Bill C-18 is somehow going to weaken journalism by compensating entities that today do not receive any compensation from Google and Facebook. It is simply tantamount to fear-mongering.

With regard to the wild claim that Bill C-18 will “break the internet,” it is important to remember that Google and Facebook are not the internet itself. Is Google Search a great tool? It sure is, but Bill C-18 will not break Google Search, just as similar legislation has not broken it in Australia.

Bill C-18 also does not provide the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission with unprecedented and unwarranted control over the internet. Under Bill C-18, the CRTC has no power to control what is said on the internet. Zero. It does not allow the CRTC to manipulate search algorithm results or, contrary to Google’s claims, “artificially inflate” rankings of search results to benefit “scammers.” All the bill does is allow the CRTC to settle a dispute with respect to how much Google and Facebook will pay for accessing Canadian news.

As new organizations in Canada barely hang on, rules that support fair compensation from global digital platforms is the right approach. Canadian news providers have a very real and urgent need for what Bill C-18 can deliver, as do all Canadians who value credible and responsible Canadian news outlets to stay informed about what is happening locally, nationally and around the world.

Robert Malcolmson, chief legal and regulatory officer, BCE and Bell Canada

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