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The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations and Carleton University will host the first national digital community media conference November 22-24 in Ottawa.
CACTUS' plans to host a professional and policy development conference to bring together community TV, radio, online and gaming pracitioners with the general public, researchers and policy-makers was first announced at the People's Social Forum in Ottawa in 2014. Since then, plans have progressed apace. Researcher Kirsten Kozolanka of the School of Journalism and Communications at Carleton University agreed to partner with CACTUS in order that the conference could be held centrally in Ottawa, easily accessible to government agencies whose policies affect community media, including the CRTC, Canadian Heritage, and Industry Canada.
The goals of the conference include exploring:
- best practices in the digital environment, ways in which the divisions between traditional community media such as community TV and radio are breaking down, and the need for new strategies to serve communities online. Also to be explored is the way in which youth and new demographics are increasingly developing media literacy skills through gaming.
February 15th was the dead-line to submit comments to Industry Canada regarding its proposal to align its television spectrum usage plans with those of the US.
At issue is the US' plans to offer financial compensation to US television broadcasters to vacate channels between the low 30s and 58 to make way for data-rich mobile applications (aka video distribution via cellular technology). Industry Canada was seeking comment from Canadians regarding how closely Canada should align its own spectrum usage with those of the US.
The proposed spectrum auction will follow closely on the heels of last year's auction of the 700 MgHz band, in which former TV channels above 60 were auctioned off for use by wireless providers.
In its submission to Industry Canada, CACTUS prioritized:
- maintaining access to bandwidth by local authorities, and not allowing it all to be auctioned for private use.
- over-the-air broadcasting, because of the local control over content that over-the-air towers offer communities
- creating incentives for broadcasters to multiplex using digital technologies, to ensure that bandwidth is used efficiently, and there are always available over-the-air frequencies for new television services to use, including community television services
- community broadcasters as generators of unique local and Canadian content
- compensating broadcasters for the cost of moving to a lower channel assignment from the auction (i.e. incoming wireless providers should compensate outgoing TV broadcasters)
- using some of the proceeds of the spectrum auction to develop digital literacy at the community level
You can read CACTUS' full submission here.
CACTUS offered at workshop at the Ontario Library Assocation superconference in Toronto in January, as part of the work it is doing under a Trillium Foundation grant to reach out to communities around Ontario about opportunities to improve community communication infrastructure using digital technologies.
Representatives from approximately 30 public libraries attended the three-hour workshop, which gave the libraries a crash course in community TV history, the void in media literacy training in Canada that has opened up since the collapse of the old cable community channel system, and opportunities for libraries.
For their part, public libraries across Canada have been re-examining their roles in the digital environment. Many, realizing that it's not just about books anymore, have been exploring 'maker spaces' to bring families and clients back to libraries. Since the 1990s, libraries have hosted CAP sites or "Community-Access Portals" to enable broadband Internet access, but many are taking their roles one step farther. In addition to supplying passive resources such as Internet workstations, maker spaces within libraries are seeking to catalyze a range of creative activites from puppet-making, to hack labs in which youth learn computer coding and game-making, to audio-visual production and 3D printing.
CACTUS sees an obvious overlap between the traditional media literacy mandate of community TV channels and public libraries. Says spokesperson, Cathy Edwards, "Libraries are already in communities, and they're there for the long term. They're seen as honest brokers, welcoming to all, and in the business of preserving the community's audio-visual record. They're natural hosts for community media centres. It's a role that can revitalize their mandate within the municipality."
In March, the Quebec government released its "Plan Cultural Numérique" (Digital Cultural Plan).
In it is a provision of $750,000 to be shared among Quebec's not-for-profit community television corporations to spend on technological upgrades so that equipment is digital and HD, and to enable digital archiving of content.
For more information, details about the plan (in French) can be found here:
Unfortunately, community-owned and -operated television channels outside Quebec receive no financial assistance from any government or industry body. Most still broadcast in SD and have limited resources for archiving their content.
Meanwhile, many cable community channels have jettisoned decades worth of analog audio-visual content documenting every aspect of life in their host communities, because it has no long-term commercial value to them.
Phase III of the CRTC's "Let's Talk TV" consultation (CRTC 2014-190) generated almost 3000 comments by individual Canadians as well as industry groups and stakeholders. The CRTC's questions in phase III raised the possibility that the current 2% revenue allocation by cable companies to community channels might be adjusted, as well as that free over-the-air distribution by local television stations (community, public, or private) might not be required in future.
The oral part of the CRTC hearing will be held in September. CACTUS is slated to appear on Wednesday, September 17th.
Click here to read CACTUS' written submission to phase III of "Let's Talk TV":
The full list of public submissions can be found here:
CACTUS will be offering a workshop entitled "Reclaiming Our Community TV Channels" at the Peoples’ Social Forum (PSF) in Ottawa on Friday August 22nd. CACTUS has also been invited to participate in a panel hosted by rabble.ca about how independent media can be used to support social movements, and by Communicatons Workers of America (Canada) about funding models for alternative media.
In case you haven't heard of the PSF, its web site describes it as "a critical public space aimed at fostering activist involvement of individuals and civil society organizations that want to transform Canada as it exists today. It is a space for social movements to meet and converge, for the free expression of alternative ideas and grassroots exchanges. Social justice, Original Peoples rights, sustainable development, international solidarity and participatory democracy are at the centre of its concerns." Ten thousand people are expected to participate and the keynote address will be given by Naomi Klein.
CACTUS hopes to both network with other community and alternative media, but also with environmental, First Nations, and social justice organizations about how community media can help them get their messages out.
For more information about the PSF, see:
Attendees are being billetted with Ottawa residents.
Entry for the whole forum is only $20.
CACTUS' workshop will be offered from 1 - 2:30 p.m. on Friday.
The rabble.ca panel, which will be moderated by Judy Rebick and in which CACTUS is taking part, will be offered immediately following at 2:45 p.m. (more information here):
The CWA panel regarding community media funding will be immediately following the rabble.ca panel at 4:30.
Prior to 2006, there was only ever one 'community channel' in a given neighbourhood. In 2006, Rogers petitioned the CRTC to divide its Ottawa community channels along linguistic lines. Other cable and satellite TV providers have been following Rogers' lead lately, a worry trend that takes Canadian 'community TV' ever further from its roots and more and more a copy of what's already available on commercial local TV.
The CRTC expects cable and satellite television service providers to spend 5% of their revenues on Canadian production. If they elect to offer a 'community channel' in a given licence area, they are allowed to retain between 1.5 and 2% of the 5% for the operation of the channel. The remainder flows to the Canada Media and other production funds that support professional production nationally.
Almost all cable and satellite companies have elected to operate a community channel given this choice, because it gives them some control over how a portion of their contribution to Canadian production is spent, and enables them to leverage local branding and advertising.
A US appeals court has thrown out the concept of net neutrality, which had heretofore ensured that different kinds of Internet traffic are given equal access to bandwidth, and had prevented Internet providers from charging different rates to different kinds of traffic.
The US ruling sets a dangerous precedent that could threaten the long-term health of community media, as more and more people acquire information and entertainment on-line.
Click here for the full Wall Street Journal article.
People often ask, "Why do you need community TV channels anymore with the Interent? You've got YouTube."
There are lots of answers to this question:
- You have to give up your copyright on many services such as YouTube, and they are being more and more commercialized. The community doesn't own or control them.
- YouTube doesn't aggregate local audiences, and isn't live.
- YouTube doesn't provide training and media literacy skills and equipment access for people who are not already media-savvy.
The CRTC is hosting a public consultation called "Let's Talk TV", to consult the general public about how it thinks the broadcasting system should evolve in the digital and multi-platform environment.
The consultation will have several stages. Before Christmas, it was very free form. Canadians were encouraged to post informal comments on the CRTC's web site, in response to questions in three categories, including programming content as well as technological access to services.
Groups and organizations were also encouraged to host "Flash Conferences" examining the same questions. These conferences could be informal get-togethers in people's houses, coffee shops, a townhall, a teleconference or web consultation. CACTUS held a "Flash Conference" in January. Our report can be found on the CRTC web site, along with the reports of other groups and organizations. (Click the link below, and then click "Flash Conference Reports" in the middle column where it says "Get Up to Speed on the Conversation.)
Here's what the CRTC's report on stage I had to say about community and local programming:
On September 5th, Videotron proposed to the CRTC that it be allowed to spend between $6 and $10 million to fund a second community TV channel for Montreal, to be programmed exclusively in English. The money would be taken from the Canada Media Fund, which is used by independent professional producers to fund high-quality drama and documentaries... programs like Murdoch Myseteries, Rookie Blue, and the Listener.
The channel would be called MYtv, a clone to Videotron's existing MAtv service. The company is currently in violation of its licence requirements to "reflect the official languages, ethnic and Aboriginal composition of the community" with the exclusively French MAtv service.
The professional production community is naturally concerned, given that the new channel would drain scarce resources that would otherwise have supported the production of programming that could be seen nation-wide.
A citizen group has proposed a third solution, that would meet the needs of both Montreal's minority communities AND the professional production community. The Steering Committee for an Independent Community Channel (ICTV) for Montreal, is challenging Videotron for its basic licence to administer the community channel. Current CRTC policy states that if a cable company is not meeting its licence requirements, a community-based undertaking can have it, along with the 2% of that cable company's revenues from the licence area to support it.
Click here to see ICTV's complaint against Videotron, and licence application (scroll down the list of Part 1 applications until you find 2013-1746-2 and double-click it).
A zip file will open on your computer showing a list of documents.
CACTUS filed its end-of-year report for the first year in a two-year grant by the Ontario Trillium Foundation to promote digital broadcasting opportunities to communities across Ontario.
CACTUS had committed to engage at least 6 communities in the process of setting up a digital media centre by the end of year 1 of its grant, and 15 communities by the end of year 2.
Work during the first year focussed on a) salvaging broadcasting transmission equipment being decommissioned by both TVO and the CBC for use by communities and b) reaching out to municipalities, bands, and communities across Ontario about the potential of digital technologies for broadcasting to improve local communications.
Eighty-seven communities secured former TVO broadcast towers, and one community in Ontario has acquired a former CBC TV transmitter to date. Community groups in the following areas so far are exploring the potential for a digital community media centre to improve increase access to media skills training and local content (some using former TVO and CBC equipment):
- Manitoulin Island
- Sandy Lake First Nations
- North Bay
- Parry Sound
We look forward to working with these groups throughout the coming year, and in welcoming others to the process as our outreach to communities across the province continues.
For more information on the Ontario Trillium Foundation and its granting programs, click here.
(reprinted from PRLOG of Jan. 6, 2013)
Do America's struggling families deserve free TV for life?
A group of small-market broadcasters think so.
Octave Network Television has entered the media marketplace as a no-fee hdtv service provider, offering dozens of public, government and community access channels free of charge to every U.S, citizen.
8ctave's network combines the strength of hundreds of small-market, noncommercial, student-run, government, public-sourced and community access broadcast stations from across the country. Many of these 'tiny towers' are grossly underfunded, underpowered or unavailable without digital 'rabbit ear' antennas.
Public broadcasters are a vital part of national media, connecting communities, serving the public trust and acting as key components to national security through use of the FCC's Emergency Alert System, which informs and instructs the public during a crisis.
Now enters Octave, a startup bent on 'Powering Public Access' with streaming TV technology, broadcasting to millions of Americans via Roku and other internet TV receivers.
Roku is the largest streaming TV box in America, credited with creating the popular Netflix video on-demand service. Devices like Roku contain the nuts and bolts that enable Octave's free HD offerings, with units costing less than $50.
In addition to on-demand content delivery, Octave channels broadcast in TV's traditional linear format. Octave looks like 'regular' TV because it is, combining the strength and character of America's Public Access broadcasters into a nationwide network with more potential carriers than ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX combined.
According to Octave founder Edward Balboa, you need "a lot of Davids" to take on a Goliath, a role relished by the unknown recently dubbed 'The Rocky Balboa of Broadcasting.' He says folks often mistake Octave for a music channel, but that an Octave's true description isn't so do-ray-mi.
Hagensborg, BC is the second community that CACTUS is aware of that has salvaged CBC equipment in order to maintain CBC TV free to air. “The story of television in the Bella Coola Valley is one of community perserverence and ingenuity” says John Morton of the Hagensborg TV Society. “We rebroadcast 6 television signals and 3 radio channels using a community-owned transmission tower” he says. “The CRTC at first refused to licence our system back in the 1970s, because the CBC had reported that it was technically impossible to have TV reception in the Bella Coola Valley. This was a surprise to those of us who had witnessed--among other events--the moon landing in 1969!”
Hagensborg is one of over 600 communities that was slated to lose free over-the-air CBC and Radio Canada service on July 31st of last year, the date the CBC turned off its analog over-the-air transmission network, and began retiring equipment. The Hagensborg TV Society offered the CBC a nominal amount for the analog transmitter, receivers, modulators and amplifiers, which would likely have been scrapped. “The community is really delighted to have been able to re-establish over-the-air service. Many in our community can't afford satellite TV. Although there are some costs to maintain the tower and pay downlink fees for the channels we want, it works out to only about 60$ per household per year, which is really affordable."
Neepawa Community TV can now be seen across on Manitoba on MTS Ultimate TV, in addition to its prior distribution over the air within the town of Neepawa, and on the Westman Cable network.
The MTS Ultimate TV service is growing thanks to the expansion of MTS’s fibre-to-the-home network, the MTS FiON Network. Since 2010, MTS has launched the MTS FiON Network in Selkirk, Steinbach, Dauphin, Thompson, The Pas, Neepawa, Carberry, Minnedosa, Killarney, and select areas of Winnipeg. More communities are being added as we write, which will bring NACTV to an even wider audience.
“MTS is proud to provide Neepawa Access TV to subscribers throughout Manitoba,” said Greg McLaren, Manager of MTS TV Content.
Ivan Traill, the manager of the Neepawa community channel, is delighted. "Many ex-Neepawa residents that have moved to Winnipeg can now see us, and they're thrilled that they can see our sporting and other events. They're even getting together to watch them!"
CACTUS is delighted too. "It's essential that community TV channels be available on whatever platform residents obtain TV service, so that the whole community can share the content."
As many of you know, CRTC staff elected to audit selected cable community channels for a week in March of 2011, in response to data provided by CACTUS that suggested that many cable licence areas fail to meet both the access and local programming thresholds specified in regulations. Shaw, Rogers, Videotron, Cogeco and Eastlink were asked to provide their programming logs to the CRTC for a week and to answer a series of questions about their programming.
Their responses were forwarded to CACTUS in the summer of 2011 for our comment. After a six-week review, we filed a 70-page analysis of the logs to the CRTC at the end of 2011.
In June of 2012, CRTC staff sent CACTUS a letter that acknowledged some issues with cable community channels, but offered a differing interpretation of what constitutes an "access program", which led staff to different conclusions regarding cable company compliance with the 2010 community channel policy.
CACTUS filed a request with the Commission today for clarification, and for a formal Commission decision regarding the 2011 audit. We will keep you updated in the new year.
For more information about the issues that require clarification, and to see our letter, click here.