The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) has won a major victory for Canadians who want a say in telecommunications policy in Canada. In Telecom Costs Order CRTC 2007-14 issued today, the CRTC upheld PIAC's request for compensation for the preparation of a submission to a public hearing on whether or not to eliminate regulatory constraints on telephone companies' basic rates.
The public hearing (Telecom Public Notice CRTC 2006-10) was instigated in response to a letter from Bell Canada requesting deregulation of basic phone service fees. PIAC was strongly opposed to such a move, and included with its submission a request under s.44 of the CRTC Telecommunications Rules of Procedure for compensation for the costs of preparing its submission. Under s.44, the CRTC can award costs against a regulated company to an intervener who represents a class of subscribers with an interest in the outcome, who has participated in a responsible way, and who has contributed to a better understanding of the issues. The CRTC ordered that PIAC be compensated in the amount of $20,182.74.
Bell Canada (on behalf of itself, Bell Aliant Regional Communications, and Saskatchewan Telecommunications) had argued against the application, suggesting that PIAC had not been responsible, that they had unnecessarily delayed the proceedings and had made unsubstantiated allegations during the hearing. The CRTC found unequivocally that PIAC had participated in a responsible way and had contributed to a better understanding of the issues.
St Andrews Community Channel Inc., a non-profit corporation, operates CHCT-TV on UHF channel 26 and is also cablecast on channel 10. We have been producing a variety of general interest programming isnce March 13,1993.
As many of you may know, there have been community TV organizations operating independently from cable operators in Quebec for much of the history of community TV in Canada. They are represented by the la Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec.
In their own words:
Les télévisions communautaires autonomes sont des organismes à but non lucratif et sont réparties dans 15 des 17 régions du Québec. Distribuées sur le service de câblodistribution de leur région, elles rejoignent jusqu’à 1 400 000 téléspectateurs et téléspectatrices. La Fédération est membre du Réseau québécois de l’action communautaire autonome, du Chantier de l’économie sociale, du CSMO-ÉSAC et de la Corporation de développement communautaire de l’Érable. Le fonctionnement de la Fédération est subventionné par le ministère de la Culture, des Communications et le la Condition féminine du Québec
We'd like to welcome the Fédération and its members as CACTUS contributors and include the following article about the Fédération's reaction to 2007-10. This is reprinted from the Fédération's quarterly "Bulletin", which you can read in full at the Fédération's web site at: www.fedetvc.qc.ca. The current "Bulletin" contains articles about Quebec's bingo laws (member of the member channels subsist in part on bingos), as well as fund-raising activities at some of the member channels. But first, the Fédération on 2007-10:
Une déréglementation majeure des modalités d’exploitation du canal communautaire est à nos portes!
La Fédération est sur un pied de guerre depuis la parution, le 5 avril 2007, de l’Avis d’audience publique de radiodiffusion CRTC 2007-10 portant sur la Révision des cadres de réglementation des entreprises de distribution de radiodiffusion et des services de programmation facultatifs.
During the recent CRTC “Diversity Hearings”, I realized that
a) a national organization is needed to represent Canadian community television channels, similar to the Alliance for Community Media in the US and the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec and
b) that organization should apply for a license for and administer a national citizen-access channel.
For ten years, the CMES has been the focal point for community television interventions with the CRTC
in English Canada, and the Fédération has represented community TV in Quebec. Although the CMES and the Fédération are on one another’s mailing lists and have exchanged information from time to time, we have not lobbied the CRTC with one voice to date. The differing views that these organizations have on the issue of advertising on the community channel is just one issue on which both parties have been saying different things to our federal regulator (please see the blog below).
A common and stronger front with respect to regulation is just one benefit that a national organization can bring. Others include:
a) help for groups attempting to obtain a new community TV license
b) training and guidance for new community TV license holders
c) on-going professional development for existing community TV license holders
d) a national awards program to stimulate production values and encourage the exchange of programming ideas (such as was formerly provided by the CCTA’s Galaxy awards)
e) the possibility of program bicycling
f) resource sharing, such as the posting of sample license applications and interventions on this web site
g) public-awareness raising about community television and democratic media rights
We hope that with your support, CACTUS will become this organization.
The latest just in from Larry Widen and Lance Klaasen in Campbell River, B.C. (for the background to this story, read further down the home page articles):
The CRTV annual general meeting went well.
I sat close to a mike and was able to make two motions that passed by a good majority. The first concerned a letter from Shaw offering to buy CRTV for $3,000 to each subscriber.
That the letter from Shaw be received and filed with no action taken.
I move that the owners of CRTV assembled at this 2007 annual general meeting direct the current board of directors, the board of directors elected as a result of nomination accepted at this annual general meeting and all persons employed by CRTV as follows:
That the course of action set out in what has been reported as option #1, to maintain the status quo, and option #3, to sell CRTV, be abandoned and not receive any further consideration in favour of option #2 and aggressively implement a course of action to maintain, improve, enhance and expand services provided by CRTV including community programming to the full extent financially practicable
There were about 450 owners in attendance. Those who wanted their $3,000.00 complained that some who wanted to attend could not get in as there were no more seats. There is a wide range of the counts of how many could not get in. The same people called for a referendum on all three options with no success.
The local chapter of the Council of Canadians organized an information handout as members were entering the theatre relating to Public Notice 2007-10 (paragraph 73). The handout encouraged members to make public submissions to the CRTC to oppose the proposed CRTC deregulation.
Now all that remains is for CRTV is to determine how they will finance the new services needed to keep up with the competition.
The issue of advertising on the community channel is becoming more and more contentious. Prior to 1997, only sponsorship messages without moving video were allowed. Since 1997, moving video, product placement, and infomercials seem to have become rife on "community TV", particularly corporate-run channels such as Shaw, which use every opportunity to promote their own services.
Most community TV practitioners (and the early legislation) envisioned a non-competitive, educational platform for local voices and issues, free from the need to compete for the dollar. In recent years, however, there has been pressure from two sources to liberalize the restrictions on advertising on the community channel:
1) From the cable operators, who want to be able to turn their 2-5% cable levy contribution to commercial advantage
2) From small independent community TV organizations who have inadequate or no access at all to the 2-5% cable levy ear-marked for community TV
The Dunbar-Leblanc report that was recently filed as part of CRTC policy hearing 2007-10 also recommends that advertising rules on the community channel be liberalized.
Resistance to liberalization of the rules comes from two sources also:
1) From CAB and its member broadcasters, who rightly see advertising on the community channel as competition
2) From community TV practitioners such as myself who worry that liberalizing the rules will not only change the character of community TV programming in the long term to favour more commercial formats that will appeal to larger audiences (and exclude the niche audiences that the channels were designed to serve) but also give the CRTC an excuse to give away the 2-5% of the cable levy for other funding initiatives.
The dead-line for comments and replies to comments on CRTC 2007-10 has been extended to January 25, 2008. This has been done because the scope of the CRTC's questions have been expanded to include the issue of must-pay carriage status for over-the-air broadcasters. The broadcasters are asking that they be paid per subscriber by cable operators, similar to specialty channels.
The CRTC is accepting first-round comments on this question until January 25th, and also replies to the first-round of comments on all other issues.
So, if you haven't participated to date, I encourage you to do so now. You can easily formulate a "reply" by commenting on, supporting, or elaborating on other submissions about community TV (and the infamous paragraph 73 suggesting that the requirement that the community TV channel be included on the basic cable tier be removed).
Just go to www.crtc.gc.ca, click on "Policies, Directives", search for 2007-10, scroll to near the bottom, and click on "Interventions Form" to make your comment. It's all automated.
The following letter was submitted by Campbell River, (Vancouver Island) Community TV Technical Foreman to the Campbell River local paper:
From reading the papers and listening to folks talk lately, I get the feeling that citizens of Campbell River may have recently developed a false impression about the state of CRTV. I would like to dispel some of the misconceptions people might have about the condition of their cable company.
Through talk shows , press releases and letters, certain people may have inadvertently lead the public to believe that our cable company is not worth anything anymore – and if it still is, ‘woe is us’, it won’t be for long!
This could not be further from the truth. If you acquire a copy of the President’s Report for the last 5 or 6 AGM’s, you will find that a pretty rosy picture was being presented over the years – and justifiably so! In the past few years, we’ve taken advantage of every opportunity to speak of the positives regarding CRTV. How could the picture change so dramatically in such a short period of time?
Why would Shaw offer $3000.00 per subscriber for a cable system? That amount speaks volumes to the value of this cable system! Why would they offer this unprecedented amount?
What Will Become of Community TV? (Part 2)
If you were following this column 2 weeks ago, you’ll know that for the last 10 years, citizens in Winnipeg have not had access to their “community-access channel” (channel 9). These days, the channel is entirely programmed by Shaw staff, despite CRTC requirements that at least 30-50% of the content be “access programming” (initiated and executed by members of the community at large). Gone are the days of cult shows like Math with Marty, What’s New Pussycat, or the Pollock and Pollock Gossip Show, let alone hours and hours in every genre covering local sports, children’s, multicultural activities and local affairs.
The latest nail in the coffin for community TV is the current CRTC proposal to remove the requirement that the community channel be carried on the basic cable tier. Canada’s Broadcast Act says that there are three tiers in our broadcasting system: public (the CBC and provincial educational broadcasters), private, and community. Since there are so few public and community channels compared to the vast array in the private tier, the few there are should be as widely available as possible; for example, the CBC and provincial educational channels are available over the air as well as through cable and satellite. Ideally, the same would be true of the community channel. When cable was the only game in town, the community channel (the sole representive of that “tier”) was available to most Canadians. Up until 1997, approximately 80% of Canadian homes had at least basic cable service. Since 1997, satellite customers have lost access to the community channel. If the community channel is removed from basic tier, it will become even more of a rare bird, more likely to be neglected by cable operators, and to lose further funding. (Financial support for community channels fell from 5% to 2% in 1997).