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CACTUS Requests Commission Decision on Cable Audit Findings

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.

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New Code of Access Best Practices for BDU-Owned Community Channels

As you may be aware, the new community TV policy announced by the CRTC in September of 2010 (CRTC 2010-622) announced that an "industry working group" would be established to create of Code of Access Best Practices to guide cable operators in the administration of cable community channels.

CACTUS objected (as did the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec--the Fédétvc) that the "industry working group" included five representatives of cable companies, and none from the general public these channels are meant to serve. In response to our complaint, the "working group" was told it must "consult" both the Fédétvc and CACTUS regarding the contents of the Code. The extent of this consultation was that the working group sent us a copy of their draft code. We and the Fédétvc submitted separate but similar comments to the effect that the Code gives cable companies too broad a scope to reject particular programming ideas on grounds such as "community values" and "public taste" (as determined by who?)

The working group ignored our comments, and submitted its draft Code to the CRTC. The CRTC posted the document for public comment in September of 2011. Since our comments had been ignored, both CACTUS and the Fédétvc resubmitted our comments as part of this public process. Finally, another year later, the Code of Best Practices was announced on September 7, 2012. Although the Code is largely the document proposed by the cable industry working group, it does include two new sections about dispute resolution and copyright (the latter echoing almost verbatim CACTUS' suggestions):

  1. If disputes arise about access between producers and any broadcast distribution undertaking (BDU) and it cannot be resolved by the parties, a third-party arbitrator agreeable to both parties is to be appointed. Any expenses related to the arbitration are to be borne by the BDU.

    While we approve the availability of an occasional arbitration process―-and although community advisory committees that might be involved in the day-to-day operation of cable and other BDU community channels are suggested in 2010-622—-there is still no requirement that BDUs establish such committees, which might have day-to-day input into access practices..

  2. The copyright for access programs stays with community producers, regardless of how much assistance they receive from BDUs. BDUs can play the program within the licenced area, but the community producer may sell or exploit the program on any other platform they wish.

This is a fundamental and important shift. While back in the day it was relatively easy for volunteers to propose program ideas and to produce them with cable company assistance, it was always the cable company that retained copyright. Over time, as cable company staff took more and more control over community channel content, this led to a perception that it was volunteers who assisted cable company staff to make programs, and not the other way around. The new Code asserts the opposite: that insofar as the 50% of the programming schedule that is meant to be community-access at least, it is the BDU that assists community members to get their ideas to the small screen.

This ruling shows that while CACTUS has been largely ignored to date by the federal regulator regarding the inappropriateness of for-profit corporations controlling what should be a community-managed resource, it does demonstrate that when an issue tightly corresponds to a political hot button of the day (copyright), you can get results.

The problem, of course, is that the Code as written gives too much latitude to BDUs to decline particular programming ideas in the first place, so a given program proposed by a given community member may never get made at all.

There's no question that this is a moral victory, but it remains to be seen whether it is a practical one. To read the CRTC's decision and the full text of the new Code (the Code is Appendix 1 to the decision), see:

Code of Access Best Practices.

Let us know what you think of the new Code and how it is likely to affect you. (All members can comment on any article.)

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CACTUS Contributes Fresh Ideas to CBC Licence Renewal Hearing

CACTUS participated in both the written and oral phases of the CBC licence renewal process. Although commenting on the role of the public broadcaster would normally not fall within our mandate, we decided to participate because CACTUS' Executive Director Catherine Edwards and Karen Wirsig of the Canadian Media Guild had co-authored and presented a paper in the spring at the Journalism Strategies conference at McGill regarding models by which public and community broadcasters could collaborate to improve local media. The paper proposes models by which more quality and quantity of local content could be created in an austere financial environment. It responds to statements in the CBC's 2015 strategy document "Everyone, Everyway" in which the CBC commits to maximize its presence in the regions by entering into new partnerships and using new technologies. Examples of such partnership could include:

  • sharing of transmission infrastructure (our recent campaign to salvage CBC towers and transmitters for communities)

  • sharing of facilities in an affiliate relationship (e.g. local volunteer-production as well as CBC network content within a shared schedule, or two separate licences working out of a shared facility)
  • sharing of content, possibly by uploading to a central server for CBC regional news outlets to access

The paper proposes the establishment of a fund to encourage such partnerships, which was endorsed in the CMG's presentation before the CRTC.

These ideas were also suggested independently as part of the Payette report, which recommended that Telequebec source content from Quebec community broadcasters.

While individual CBC journalists and staff assisted at the conference in the spring, and CACTUS and the CMG have sent copies of the presentation to the CBC, no formal response has yet been received from the Corporation. We did, however, receive endorsements for the idea from OpenMedia and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre at the CBC licence renewal hearing, and in the document "Reimagine CBC", the product of months of public consultation conducted by OpenMedia in partnership with Leadnow.ca and Gen Why. Recommendation 4 out of 5 in this document is "Collaborate with the right partners, who have deep roots in the community." The document cites Karen's and Cathy's paper, as well as CACTUS' campaign to encourage the CBC to offer its decommissioned towers and transmitters to communities to repurpose.

We look forward to the opportunity to discuss these ideas directly with the CBC in the months ahead.

Cathy's and Karen's paper is available on our web site here: Public and Community Partnerships to Improve Local Media.

You can read the "Reimagine CBC" document here.

The transcript from the CBC hearing in which a new fund to develop public-community partnerships was proposed can be found: here (search for "CACTUS").

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Hay River, NWT First Community to Acquire CBC Transmission Equipment So Far

Despite the barrage of more than 2200 letters to the CBC and the CRTC in the summer requesting that CBC towers and transmitters slated for decommissioning be offered to communities first, the CRTC imposed no special conditions on the national broadcaster prior to shutting off free-to-air CBC and Radio-Canada service on July 31st.

Communities were told that they could apply directly to the CBC for transmitters, and to a third-party (Capital Networks) managing the sale of the CBC's tower sites. Although the dead-line for requesting towers was October 9th, only a handful of communities have yet received a reply from the CBC. Those that have have been declined except for one. Gary Hoffman of the Hay River TV Society in the NWT managed to acquire both the CBC English, CBC French, and APTN transmitters and has restored all three services to his community. The transmitters were donated by the CBC free of charge.

In the case of Maniwaki, Quebec and various rural sites in Manitoba, however, several communities have been informed that they didn't make it past the first stage in the commercial bid process. One group bid on several remote sites, offering the CBC thousands of dollars per tower, but was still declined. The group had been told that many of the towers have revenues associated with them. Space may be leased on the towers by third parties for another 5 or 10 years...

... which once again raises the question, why is the CBC getting rid of them?

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More than 2000 Canadians Ask CBC to Consult Them Before Shutting Down Transmission Sites

More than 2000 individual Canadians, community organizations, MPs and municipalities have written to the CRTC to ask that they be consulted about what happens to CBC transmission sites in their communities.

In response to federal cuts, the CBC and Radio-Canada announced in April that they plan to switch off more than 623 analog transmitters on July 31, 2012. Canadians outside major cities and provincial and territorial capitals will lose free access to the CBC and Radio-Canada over the air using bunny ears or rooftop antennae.

(Click here to see whether you will be affected.)

Getting the CBC and Radio-Canada’s signals to all Canadians living in communities of at least 500 people was a major policy goal in the 1970s to link the country coast to coast. This transmission infrastructure is worth millions and has already been paid for by Canadian taxpayers. Rather than being scrapped, it could be maintained by communities themselves. The transmitters and towers can be used not just to continue free TV service, but also to set up local wireless Internet or mobile service, or a community TV or radio service.

The CRTC Consultation: 2012-0509-7

The CRTC has begun a public consultation on the CBC’s plan. CACTUS urged town and band councils, community colleges, community media groups and concerned citizens to ask the CRTC and CBC before the June 18th dead line to make the transmission equipment available for local use.

Of the more than 2200 individuals and groups that responded, 1549 live in or near large urban centres where CBC service will continue. They empathized with their rural countrymates and urged that CBC infrastructure be offered to communities slated to lose service.

Of the 619 respondents from communities that are slated for service loss, the table that follows shows where they live and the location of the CBC transmitter that serves them. Of the 623 analog transmission sites that the CBC proposes to shut down, communities intervened regarding 216 of them. They asked that the infrastructure be offered to communities to maintain, that they be upgraded to digital, or that CBC TV service be multiplexed with an existing digital transmitter that is operational in the community.

The CBC's Response to Date

Despite this overwhelming willingness of Canadians to work with the CBC to keep their TV signals free, the CBC has stated that it is not planning to consult affected communities and wants “fair market value” for its equipment, even if communities are willing to maintain it. In one instance (Penticton), a school board and local ISP representative was told that he could obtain the CBC's otherwise useless analog transmitter for over $80,000!

In the weeks ahead, we will keep track of the progress being made in each community. If and when roadblocks arise, we will flag them for the affected government agencies.

Notes on Interpreting the Data

Just because the remaining transmitters have not been specifically requested by communities does not mean they don't want them. The CBC conducted no outreach to affected communities when the CRTC consultation was open for public comment. The particular Canadians and communities that participated heard about the proposed shutdown through CACTUS, the press, or partner organizations whose representation across the country is uneven. We note in particular the low response rate in Quebec where we and our predominantly anglophone partner organizations have few members, and Newfoundland, where broadband Internet penetration is the lowest in the country (our campaign was conducted primarily via the Internet). Public awareness in Newfoundland is of particular concern, since more than a third of the transmission sites slated for shutdown by the CBC are in Newfoundland.

Nonetheless, the high response rate among Canadians who are slated to lose service, Canadians for whom service will continue, and also 84 Canadians who are already without free over-the-air-access to CBC TV (i.e. they currently fall between service-area contours) vouches for the importance of the issue of fair and equitable access to the national broadcaster by all Canadians.

This strong response suggests that a thorough campaign of outreach by the CBC in affected areas using its television service would likely result in requests that the CBC consult with communities about their options in most of the 623 service areas slated to be decommissioned.

We use as a benchmark the two-year Heritage Lighthouse Program in which the federal government advertised the availability of heritage lighthouses for community maintenance for two years before finally shutting down only those that communities could not or did not wish to maintain.

What is clear is that with over 2000 letters to the CRTC, shutting down the CBC's entire analog TV distribution network should not have been filed as a "Part 1 application" for expedited consideration. It should be examined as a part of the CBC's full licence renewal in November of 2012.

We encourage all individuals concerned about continuing CBC access in their communities to contact us regarding next steps.

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Transmitter Location Community or Interested Group Solution Sought Stage in Process
Alberta and Saskatchewan First Nations Technical Services all 57 sites with towers has contacted CBC, waiting for response from sales agent
Alert Bay BC residents of Galiano Island analog transmitter
Bamfield BC Bamfield Community ISP analog transmitter lease arranged with 3rd party tower owner; awaiting reply from CBC
Banff AB resident of Banff analog transmitter
Barrie, ON residents of Owen Sound, Perkinsfield, Desboro, Hanover and Barrie digital upgrade
Bella Coola, BC residents of Bella Coola analog transmitter
Bonnington Falls BC residents of South Slocan analog transmitter and tower
Burns Lake (CBCY-TV-1) BC (shown on CBC contour diagrams on current web site but absent from 2012-0509-7 application?) resident of Burns Lake whatever's there
British Columbia BC Broadband Ass. 12 CBC-owned towers
Calgary, AB Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes (FCFA) and Commissioner of Official Languages multiplex Radio-Canada
Campbell River, BC residents of Campbell River, Quathiaski Cove, and Manson's Landing analog transmitter
Campbellton, NB residents of Campbellton analog transmitter and tower
Canmore AB residents of Canmore analog transmitter
Castlegar, BC residents of Castlegar Inonoaklin Valleys analog transmitter and tower
Charlottetown, PEI Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne (FCFA) and Commissioner of Official Languages multiplex Radio-Canada
Cheticamp NS residents of Cheticamp and Margaree Forks analog transmitter and tower
Coronation AB resident of Coronation analog transmitter
Cranbrook BC residents of Cranbrook, Jaffray and Kimberley analog transmitter
Crawford Bay BC residents of Kaslo and Ainsworth analog transmitter
Crescent Valley BC residents of Crescent Valley analog transmitter
Creston, BC residents of Creston, BC analog transmitter
Dauphin MB City of Dauphin analog transmitter and tower
Digby NS Residents of Annopolis Royal analog transmitters and tower
Elliot Lake ON Residents of Elliot Lake analog transmitters and tower
Flin Flon MB residents of Flin Flon analog transmitter
Fort Smith, NT resident of Fort Smith analog transmitter and tower
Foymount ON resident of Foymount analog transmitter
Fredericton, NB Residents and the City of Fredericton and Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne (FCFA), Commissioner of Official Languages multiplex Radio-Canada
Gaspe, QC resident of Gaspe analog transmitter and tower
Golden, BC resident of Golden analog transmitter
Goose Bay LAB resident of North West River analog transmitter
Grande Prairie, AB Municipal District of Spirit River and residents of Demmitt and Grande Prairie analog transmitter and tower
Grand Forks BC residents of Grand Forks analog transmitter
Greenwood BC residents of Greenwood, Anaconda, Christina Lake analog transmitter
Greenwater Lake SK residents of Archerwill, Porcupine Plains and Wadena analog transmitter and tower
Hagensborg, BC residents of Hagensborg, Hagensborg TV Society analog transmitter (CBC keeping tower for radio) in negotiations with CBC (has asked $4800 to rent space on its tower)
Halifax, NS Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne (FCFA) and Commissioner of Official Languages multiplex Radio-Canada
Harrison Hot Springs BC residents of Harrison Hot Springs analog transmitter
Hay River, NWT Hay River Community TV and residents of Hay River analog transmitter for CBC and APTN awaiting final approval on donation of equipment
High Prairie, AB Municipal District of Smoky River analog transmitter and tower
Huntsville ON residents of Bala, Milford Bay, Shelburne, Bracebridge, Emsdale, Severn Bridge and Huntsville analog transmitter and tower
Invermere BC resident of Invermere analog transmitter
Inverness NS residents of Margaree Forks and Orangedale analog transmitter and tower
Jasper BC resident of Jasper analog transmitter
Jonquieres QC resident of La Baie multiplex CBC English
Kamloops BC residents of Bridge Lake and Kamloops analog transmitter
Kearns ON residents of Kirkland Lake and New Liskeard analog transmitter
Kelowna BC residents of Coldstream, Kelowna, Lumby, Westbank and Oyama analog transmitter
Kenora, ON residents of Keewatin and Kenora analog transmitter and tower
Kitchener, ON residents of New Britain, Brownsburg, Elora, Kitchener, Cambridge, Waterloo, Bloomingdale, Stratford, Burgessville, Drumbo analog transmitter and tower
Lac du Bonnet MB resident of Victoria Beach analog transmitter and tower
Lake Louise AB resident of Lake Louise analog transmitter
Le Pas MB residents of Le Pas analog transmitter
Lethbridge AB City and residents of Lethbridge, Coaldale, Vauxhall and Champion Municipal Library digital upgrade
Little Current ON Residents of Gore Bay, Kagawong, Mindemoya analog transmitter and tower
London ON City of London, residents of St. Thomas, Ilderton Kilworth, Sparta, St. Mary's, Delhi, Denfield and London digital upgrade
Mabou NS resident of Mabou analog transmitter and tower
Madeira BC Sunshine Coast CAP site analog transmitter
Maniwaki, QC Indigenous Culture and Media Innovations analog transmitter and tower in negotiations with CBC
Marathon, ON resident of Terrace Bay analog transmitter
Margaree NS residents of Margaree Forks analog transmitter and tower
Matane QC resident of Matane analog transmitter and tower
Meadow Lake, SK Makwa (First Nations) analog transmitter and tower
Middle River NS residents of Baddeck analog transmitter and tower
Moncton NB City and residents of Moncton, Shediac River, Markhamville, Indian Mountain and Commissioner of Official Languages multiplex English CBC
Moose Jaw SK residents of Caronport and Tugaske analog transmitter and tower
Mulgrave NS residents of Antigonish, Canso, Dover, Linwood, Port Hawkesbury analog transmitter
Murdochville, QC CAP (CACI) site of Mont-Louis and Gros-Morne analog transmitter
Nelson, BC residents of Nelson and Inonoaklin Valley analog transmitter
Newcastle NB residents of Glenwood and Miramichi analog transmitter and tower
New Denver BC resident of Silverton analog transmitter
New Glasgow NS Municipality and residents of New Glasgow analog transmitter and tower has left voicemail and e-mail messages for CBC; no reply received
New Richmond QC residents of New Richmond analog transmitter and tower
Nipigon ON (CBLK-TV); provided on CBC web site, but not listed in 2012-0509-7 resident of Nipigon whatever's available
Normandale ON resident of Port Dover analog transmitter and tower
North Bay ON residents of North Bay and Sundridge analog transmitter
Nova Scotia Province of NS Broadband Project Office any of 26 CBC-owned towers in NS
Parry Sound ON resident of Parry Sound analog transmitter
Osoyoos BC resident of Oliver analog transmitter
Peace River, AB residents of Peace River analog transmitter and tower
Pemberton, BC residents of Pemberton and Base Technology Ltd. (community-based ISP) analog transmitter
Pembroke, ON residents of Cobden, Deep River and Pembroke analog transmitter and tower
Penticton, BC residents of Penticton, Peachland, Summerland and the Penticton School District and Community ISP analog transmitter CBC wants $80,000
Peterborough ON resident of Lindsay analog transmitter
Ponteix SK resident of Val Marie analog transmitter and tower
Port Alberni BC? residents of Comox, Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni analog transmitter and tower
Port Hardy, BC resident of Sointula analog transmitter
Prince Albert, SK residents of Shellbrook, Prince Albert, Cudworth, Melfort analog transmitter
Prince George, BC residents of Prince George analog transmitter and tower
Princeton, BC resident of Princeton analog transmitter
Quebec, QC Residents of Quebec, Courcelette and Commissioner of Official Languages multiplex English service
Red Deer AB residents of Red Deer, Lacombe and Sylvan Lake analog transmitter and tower
Revelstoke BC residents of Revelstoke analog transmitter
Rock Creek BC resident of Rock Creek analog transmitter and tower
Rosemary AB resident of Rosebud analog transmitter and tower
Rossland BC resident of Rossland analog transmitter
Saint-Augustin QC resident of Saguenay analog transmitter
Saint John City of Saint John and residents of Rothesay, Markhamville, Bayside digital upgrade
Salmon Arm BC residents of Coldstream, Salmon Arm, Lumby and Tappen analog transmitter
Sarnia, ON residents of Inwood, Camlachie, Sarnia analog transmitter and tower
Saskatoon, SK residents of Saskatoon Hanley digital upgrade
Sault Ste. Marie ON Residents of Sault Ste. Marie, the SSM Innovation Centre and Municipality of St. Joseph analog transmitter In negotiations with CBC and tower owner.
Sayward BC Residents of Sayward analog transmitter
Sechelt BC Sunshine Coast CAP site and residents analog transmitter
Sheet Harbour NS resident of Moser Bay analog transmitter and tower
Shelburne NS resident of Shelburne analog transmitter and tower
Sherbrooke QC residents of Sherbrooke, Hatley, North Hatley, Magog, Sawyerville and Commissioner of Official Languages multiplex English service
Slocan BC residents of Slocan analog transmitter
Smithers(CBCY-TV-5) BC (shown on CBC contour diagrams on current web site but absent from 2012-0509-7 application?) residents of Smithers whatever's there
Sooke BC residents of Sooke analog transmitter
Squamish BC residents of Squamish and Base Technology Ltd. (community-based ISP) analog transmitter
Stanraer SK resident of Duperow analog transmitter
St. John’s NL Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne (FCFA) and Commissioner of Official Languages multiplex Radio-Canada
Sudbury ON residents of Sudbury, Hanmer, Noelville and Worthington analog transmitter
Swift Current SK residents of Swift Current analog transmitter and tower
Sydney NS residents of Sydney and Margaree Forks analog transmitter and tower
Terrace BC residents of Terrace and Kitimat analog transmitter and tower
Thompson MB resident of Thompson analog transmitter
Timmins ON residents of Kirkland Lake and South Porcupine analog transmitter
Tofino BC resident of Tofino analog transmitter
Truro NS residents of Truro and Brookfield analog transmitter and tower
Valemount BC Valemount Entertainment Society analog transmitter CBC wants $4800 for rental on CBC tower
Vernon BC residents of Coldstream, Vernon and Oyama analog transmitter
Warmley SK residents of Maryfield and Windthorst analog transmitter and tower
Whistler BC Base Technology Ltd. (community-based ISP) analog transmitter
Whitecourt AB resident of Edson analog transmitter
Whitehorse YT residents of Carcross and Whitehorse analog transmitter
Whycocomagh NS resident of Orangedale analog transmitter
Wiarton ON residents of Feversham, Wiarton, Lion's Head, Meaford, Markdale and Owen Sound analog transmitter and tower
Windsor, ON Residents of Windsor and surrounding areas, Joe Comartin, MP and Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne (FCFA) and Commissioner of Official Languages multiplex Radio-Canada
Wingham ON residents of Clifford, Goderich, Gorrie, Harriston, and Markdale analog transmitter
Winlaw BC residents of Winlaw, BC analog transmitter
Wynyard SK residents of Wadena and Wynyard analog transmitter
Yarmouth NS resident of Yarmouth analog transmitter and tower
Yorkton SK resident of Springside analog transmitter and tower
All 7 transmission sites (7 transmitters, 3 towers) in Yukon Yukon territorial government wants service to continue

Community rebroadcasting is already a reality for more than 100 Canadian communities. Valemont, BC (population: 1400), rebroadcasts six TV channels (including a local community channel) and three radio channels. Residents pay $40 per household per year for the service.

For more information about community rebroadcasting click here or call CACTUS at (819) 772-2862.

Click here to read CACTUS' full submission to the CRTC regarding the proposed shutdown of the CBC's analog over-the-air TV network.

You can also join the Facebook group "Keep CBC Transmission Sites Public" if you'd like to discuss what's happening with others, or you can follow us on Twitter @CACTUS62.

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Journalism Strategies Conference at McGill April 19-22

From April 19-23, McGill hosted a "Journalism Strategies" conference. The goal was stated as follows:

"We think something important is at stake: the health of Canadian democracy. We believe the more ways we can find for more Canadians to be involved in public discourses and questions of governance, the better off we will all be. We believe journalism can and should play an important role...

We are bringing together established academics, graduate students, journalists, activists, policy-makers and others interested in journalism policies. Our goals:

1) help mobilize a broad network that will recommend public policies for ensuring spaces in the Canadian media ecology for journalism that places public deliberation and citizen participation at the core of its mission.

2) undertake a process of policy-making that is itself participatory (within the limitations of time and resources available.)"

This sounded like a perfect venue to discuss the important contributions played by community media in the Canadian "media ecology", so Karen Wirsig of the Canadian Media Guild and Catherine Edwards of CACTUS co-submitted a paper the explored ways that public and community broadcasters could work together for mutual benefit and to the benefit of Canadians.

The paper is available here:

Public and Community Partnerships to Improve Local Media.

You can also see our presentation at the conference (as well as the other conference presenters) here:

CACTUS Presentation at Journalism Strategies (starting at minute 43).

The most pressing need for public-community collaboration that surfaced at the conference was for CBC towers and transmission infrastructure slated for decommissioning on July 31st this year to be offered to communities to maintain going forward. We proposed that they be offered to communities not just to keep the CBC going, but to offer new services: community TV or radio as well as rural broadband (wireless Internet) and mobile services in underserved areas.

Let us know what you think about the conference and stay tuned re. CBC transmission infrastructure. There will be further announcements by the CBC, by CACTUS, and by the CRTC this week.

May 7, 2012

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LPIF Hearing Winds Up

The Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF) was created by the CRTC in 2008 to stimulate more local TV programming in 'markets' having fewer than 1 million people.

As far back as the 2002 Lincoln Report, "Our Cultural Sovereignty" (initiated by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage), a fund had been recommended that would stimulate more TV AND radio content, at the "community, local, and regional levels". However, when the CRTC asked the Canadian Association of Broadcasters to design eligibility criteria for the fund in 2008, community broadcasters were not invited to the consultation (and are not members of the CAB). Eligibility criteria were subsequently defined that stated that the fund was only available for "conventional broadcasters" (i.e. those in the public and private sectors) and that a qualifying station must establish "local presence" by producing at least 5 hours of "local news" per week and by the employment of local professional journalists.

The CRTC is currently reviewing the LPIF. CACTUS spokesperson Cathy Edwards appeared before the CRTC last week, making the case that community broadcasters have in fact the most true "local presence" (almost 100% of what they produce is typically made for the local market) and that funding community broadcasters would stimulate content at a rate six times greater than funding 'conventional broadcasters', since a community production on average costs just one sixth what it costs a public or private broadcaster to produce, thanks to the multiplier effect of volunteer labour.

We went to some length to describe how community broadcasters--while they typically don't produce a daily 'newscast' consisting of short segments--in fact produce more in depth content in all the same genres typically produced by a conventional broadcaster: politics, local affairs, arts and culture, sports, health, and so on.

We asked that commmunity TV licence holders be eligible for the LPIF at 1/6 the rate of a conventional broadcaster in recognition of our more efficient production model, and also of the fact that most current community licence holders are active in markets considerably smaller than 1 million.

Other questions under consideration by the Commissioners were:

- whether to keep the fund at all. Cable and satellite companies have to pay into it at a rate of 1.5% of their revenues, yielding a total of just over 100 million per year. All the large cable and satellite companies except Bell consequently want to see the LPIF discontinued.

- whether CBC local stations should continue to be eligible. CBC stations received roughly 40% of the Fund in its first year of operations. Some argue that the CBC already receives funding from Parliament, and that therefore Parliament should make up any shortfalls. Given heavy cuts to the CBC announced in the most recent budget, however, many feel the CBC should continue to be eligible for the LPIF.

- whether recipients should be automatically awarded funding for meeting the minimum eligibility criteria, or whether funding should recognize incremental additions to the amount of local programming created in a market by a particular broadcaster in each year

- whether the LPIF is still necessary given that many of the private broadcasters whose local stations were under threat of closure in 2008 due to the economic downturn have now been purchased by cable and satellite companies with deep enough pockets to continue to fund them without specific incentives or the LPIF.

If you'd like to see CACTUS' written brief, it can be found in our Resources section here:

CACTUS LPIF Submission

If you'd like to see what we said at the oral hearing and what questions the Commissioners asked us, the full hearing is available in CPAC's Video-on-Demand service here:

CACTUS April 18th Presentation Before CRTC

(We are second, after Crossroads Television, roughly 44 minutes in.)

On May 2nd, we filed our final comments, including endorsement a set of principles for the LPIF which was signed by ten other industry groups:

LPIF Principles

Let us know what you think!

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CRTC Audit of Cable Community TV Reveals Same Pattern of Abuse as Previous Audits

CACTUS just completed its review of cable company logs submitted by Rogers, Shaw, Eastlink, Cogeco and Videotron as part of the most comprehensive audit ever conducted by the CRTC of cable community channels. The logs detail all the programming aired on cable community channels in selected licence areas for March 6-12, 2011.

The findings? The same widespread abuse of this community resource as was revealed by the CRTC's previous audits, conducted in 2002-2005. As in 2002-2005, many cable companies failed to meet the 60% local programming minimum that is a standard condition of their licences, and almost all failed to meet the 30% minimum for programming produced by community members (as opposed to programming produced by cable company staff).

Also as in 2002-2005, programs are frequently claimed as "access" (produced by someone in the community) when in fact the companies' web sites suggest they are driven by cable staff. Some cable companies are charging community groups for access; others employ network templates for programs, which are used over a large area.

For us at CACTUS, these findings are no surprise. As we have stated in several public proceedings, the time when it made sense for small mom-and-pop locally based cable companies to administer community channels and media resources is long past. Canada's big five cable companies have no place in the "community media" universe; Canada continues to be the only country in the world in which "community media" is not administered by communities... duh!

Since the audit week occurred just six months into the CRTC's new community TV policy (issued in August of 2010), we are sceptical that the targets of the new policy can be met. If cable companies cannot meet the 30% access programming minimum currently in force, we fail to see how they will be able to ramp up to the 50% access expectation that the CRTC has announced by 2014.

For a full copy of our findings, click here:

CACTUS Analysis of CRTC 2011 Community Channel Audit

For an executive summary of our findings, click here:

Executive Summary

The audited licence areas include:

Shaw:
New Westminster
White Rock
Saskatoon
Thunder Bay
Fort McMurray

Rogers:
Barrie
Moncton
St. Johns
London
Oshawa

Videotron:
Granby
Saguenay
Sherbrooke

Cogeco:
Hamilton
Drummondville

Eastlink:
Bedford/Sackville
Sudbury

Copies of the cable company logs submitted to the CRTC can be provided on request.

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BECOMING A MEMBER, RENEWING YOUR MEMBERSHIP or MAKING A DONATION

We'd like to welcome as members both individuals and other organizations. As individuals, you are TV viewers and many of you have participated in TV production at community TV channels.

We welcome member organizations including community TV channels and producing groups, and others within the broadcasting industry and civil society that share our support of Canadian content, diversity, and free expression.

For more information or to renew your membership, click the appropriate link below:

individual non-voting member

individual voting member

organizational non-voting member

organizational voting member

If you are not interested to become a member but would like to make a one-time donation to CACTUS, click here:

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CACTUS Prepares Feedback for a Code of Best Practices for Cable Community Channels

As a result of the new community TV policy announced on Aug. 28th, the CRTC has asked cable companies to draft a code of access "best practices", and have sent to CACTUS and to the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec a draft for review by Jan. 20th.

While neither CACTUS nor the Fédération was initially invited to participate in the "industry working group" to generate the code, CACTUS drew attention to the oversight at the Shaw cable license renewal in September. The CRTC responded by requesting cable companies in the working group to consult us.

CACTUS is discussing the draft code within its membership and with interested parties. If you would like to be included in this process, please e-mail Cathy Edwards at cedwards at timescape dot ca.

CACTUS is delighted that the CRTC has acknowledged that the public should be included in decisions about governance of community channels.

Once the working group submits its final draft code to the CRTC at the end of February, it will be offered to the public for comment, at which time any member of the public can intervene directly.

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CACTUS and Public Policy: Fall 2010

In the wake of the CRTC's new community TV policy, announced August 28th, CACTUS has participated in three CRTC hearing processes related to Shaw Communications, and presented a brief before the Standing Committee Heritage regarding the role of small broadcasters in an increasingly consolidated media environment:

1) CACTUS intervened in the Shaw purchase of Canwest to support Shaw's offer to share transmission facilities with local and community broadcasters. This offer could considerably reduce the costs for community over-the-air broadcasters to launch in any market where Global is present.

2) CACTUS intervened in the Shaw license renewals to point out that of the 22 license areas in which Shaw was seeking a renewal, CACTUS could only confirm that 11 access studios exist. CACTUS asked that studios be reopened in the license areas that currently have no access facilities. This request was denied by the CRTC.

3) CACTUS intervened in the license application by Corus for a network of pseudo-weather community information channels called Local1, which would be located in the same communities where there is currently a Shaw community channel facility. Since Shaw's community channels already offer a Local1-like combo of weather and community news, CACTUS was concerned that the license being sought would repurpose existing community channel content, without addressing the access problems on those community channels.

4) CACTUS presented a brief before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage regarding the role of and challenges faced by the community sector in an increasingly consolidated media landscape. We focussed both on community channels themselves and on the potential represented by the upcoming digital transition.

Copies of each of these presentations can be found in the Resources section of this web site, or by clicking the highlighted links.

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The Digital Transition in Your Community

The way TV signals were delivered over the air changed in Canada beginning in August 2011. If you have a cable or satellite subscription, your service was unaffected. If you watch TV using an antenna ("bunny ears") mounted on the TV or on your roof, one of the following situations applies:

  1. In most major towns and cities, broadcasters upgraded their signals to digital. You needed either a digital TV or a digital-to-analog converter box to continue watching over-the-air TV with an antenna.

  2. In smaller communities, some of your local broadcasters may have upgraded or may yet upgrade their signals to digital (and you'll need a digital TV or converter box). Others may continue broadcasting in analog. In both cases, you can continue watching free TV, for now.

    When the analog transmitters reach the end of their useful life, however, local broadcasters may elect not to replace them. At that time, you and your neighbours would have to subscribe to cable or satellite to continue to watch TV. For example, on July 31st, 2012, TVO and the CBC will cease all analog broadcasts (everywhere outside the major cities where signals were upgraded to digital last year).

To find out whether your community will continue to receive free over-the-air TV signals after August 31st 2011, check the web site on the Digital Transition maintained by Canadian Heritage.

Your community has options to maintain these services and to add new ones. For more information about Community Distribution of TV and other services, click here:

NEW OPPORTUNITIES: COMMUNITY DISTRIBUTION

This information can also be viewed as a .pdf file by clicking the link below.

The Transition to Digital Over-the-Air Television: New Opportunities (.pdf)

This information has been developed and is maintained by volunteers. If you have found it useful, please make a donation to CACTUS.

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New CRTC Community TV Policy Little Better than Previous One

After eight long years of complaints from the Canadian public that they have been excluded from “community TV channels” on cable, the CRTC recently released a new community TV policy for Canada that is little better than the existing policy.

As dissenting Commissioner Michel Morin dubs it, “The Commission’s paternalistic community model” leaves community cable channels and the money that is collected from Canadians for “local expression” firmly under the control of cable companies. Catherine Edwards, Spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) noted, “The Commission ignored the request of the Canadian public—which was made abundantly clear at these hearings—that the time has come for community broadcasting to be in the hands of communities, as it is in all other countries that have a community sector. This is how it operates here in Canada in the community radio sector. Why not TV?”

Licences for communities to run their own channels were introduced in 2002, but there was no funding formula. The CRTC’s analysis acknowledges that a lack of funding explains why so few community licenses have been requested, yet the new policy denies communities access to the Local Programming Initiative Fund, to commercial advertising, and to the more than $120 million collected annually from Canadians for “local expression”, but which instead goes to cable companies for their professional regional channels.

Edwards reflected, “What’s particularly sad is how outdated the Commission’s model of community TV is. Approximately 40% of Canadians don’t subscribe to cable, so a cable channel as a digital townhall for Canadians just doesn’t work anymore. We also presented data to show that the majority of the more than 300 unique community channels and studios that once existed on cable have already been closed. This evidence appears to have been ignored. The relatively minor tweaks to the existing policy do nothing to address the closures.”

CACTUS proposed a new model of community broadcasting that would offer access to digital technologies, tools and training in every community across the country, available on all platforms, not just cable. “It’s a real missed opportunity,” said Edwards.

The two apparent improvements to the existing policy are the following:

1) Access Content Minimum Raised

The 2002 policy stipulated that a minimum of 30% of a cable community channel's content must be "access programming". In the new policy, this minimum is 50%, which sounds like a lot more equitable relationship with the cable company, except for these facts:

- The new minimum doesn't take effect for four more years! This is almost unheard of in CRTC policy-making. Policies themselves are supposed to be re-examined every three years, so this renders the change almost meaningless, and also implies that a review can't occur for at least another seven years! Complainants during this year's hearing have effectively been silenced for a long time into the future... a meaningless amount of time in today's fast-changing communications environment.

- The existing 30% minimum was unenforceable. The Commission had audited cable operators from 2002 through 2006, knew the minimum was not being met, yet did nothing. Cable operators routinely classified their own staff-produced magazine programming as "access programming" on the grounds that the ideas for the segments came from the community, and that the community was given air-time in front of the camera talking about their organizations and events.

2) New Definition of "Access Programming"

The new policy attempts to address this problem by defining "access programming" as programming initiated by the community and in which the community plays a creative role on the production team, but that role can still just be an on-camera role. This means that the new-magazine format that most cable companies now favour (over full-length programs produced by volunteers) could still be claimed as "access programming".

- Even if 50% of the programming week is given over to the exhibition of "access programming", the onus is still on the public to monitor and enforce the limit, and the community will always be fighting for control of a channel with a for-profit entity whose priorities are elsewhere.

The Commission has not absorbed the message that "access" to the airwaves is not just about single Canadians getting to make programs here and there. The overall direction of a channel, its mandate, its training and staffing policies--all affect the identity of the channel and its impact and ability to interact with a community's culture on every level. These need to be under the community's control to have a chance of achieving the community's full aspirations. Access TV is meant to be a learning process... it's about media literacy. You can't have a corporation mediating that process on behalf of a community in today's hyper-competitive climate. It is "patronizing", as Commissioner Morin wrote. And with the size of today's cable companies the relationship will always be grotesquely unequal.

Quebec's community producing groups had asked to be given licenses that would put them in equal control of spending and programming decisions with the cable operator (still an uneasy and illogical partnership in a 500-channel universe... is there really not room for both?) and even that was denied.

We can interpret this decision on the part of the Commission as either extremely cynical or extremely naive, or perhaps a peculariarly Canadian weird combination of both. We can either believe that the Commission serves its client license-holders first and foremost (cable companies) and the public whom the Broadcasting Act is meant to serve a distant second (the cynical take), or we can suppose they really believe that it is possible for individual citizens at the community level to share control of a television channel with a national corporation (the naive take).

Or perhaps a third interpretation is the disappointing truth: that the Commissioners just have bigger fish to fry and not much time to spend on this. How many times did they meet since the oral hearing to rewrite the policy? Once maybe? Very little has changed. It's still a long rambling policy with many unclear and apparently contradictory requirements for multiple classes of community licenses, when we had asked for a simple policy with a single over-the-air community-access license class, with mandatory carriage in the basic cable tier, like any other local channel.

In any case, these are the principal new elements to the policy (the Commission did hear our message that there are problems with access), it's just that the Commissioners' proposed solution is to prop up the existing, outdated, and unworkable system. They didn't listen to Canadians on what the solutions should be, despite the fact that the policy is meant to serve us, and we are the ones on the ground who have been experiencing the deficits in the current policy.

They also apparently ignored evidence about the vast number of station closures and the damage done by zone-based licensing, presumably because the only logical solution to that problem is independent over the air truly local channels, and they're not prepared to take away funding from cable companies to do it.

There are a few other tweaks to the policy whose potential impacts we are still discussing. More soon.

Feel free to add your thoughts on the new policy. Anyone can create a membership and post comments at any time.

Cathy Edwards
CACTUS Spokesperson

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Analysis of Submissions to 2009-661

By Richard Ward
Community Media Education Society

In the comments listed on the CRTC web site under the current review of community television policy (CRTC 2009-661), groups supporting CACTUS include ACTRA; the Directors' Guild; CTV; Canwest; the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union; the Canadian Conference for the Arts; the Independent Media Arts Alliance; the National Community Radio Association; and NUTV in Calgary. MultiMedia Centre support comes from the City of Burnaby, Metro Vancouver, the Canadian Media Guild, the Documentary Organization of Canada, OpenMedia, the Canadian Library Association and Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

Altogether 3,007 people responded to the CRTC of whom 2,670 are published on the website. Four single comments are actually large collections of letters: 2510 generally supporting the CACTUS model. A quick look at the first 50 letters in comment #3002 (which alone has 2,080 letters) demonstrates diversity of ideas comparable to most of the letters published individually by the CRTC.
Comment #2973 is an 18-signature petition on behalf of the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec. Counting these responses individually gives a total of 3,103 supporting CACTUS and the Fédération, compared to 2,714 supporting Rogers. The only sure conclsion is that many people feel strongly about their community channel.

Ontario is heavily represented with 1,972 comments, about 60% of the national total. Quebec with 441 and New Brunswick with 250 letters are next in number. There are 486 comments from BC. Alberta is fifth with 151.

Among letters listed individually by the CRTC 1,284 support the current Rogers channel of which 155 are from Mississauga alone, with a further 149 from Toronto. Looking at other BDUs, Cogeco was supported by 473 letters and Shaw had 219. Comment #2024 points out many of the Mississauga letters were aggressively backgrounded by Rogers Mississauga, and the office document enclosed is in fact echoed in many of the Rogers support letters.

33 people wrote in to support the over-the-air model of CFTV in Leamington, Ontario. A further eight wrote in to praise Telile over-the-air broadcasting from Isle Madame, Nova Scotia.

In these comments generally BDUs no longer claim to offer a channel where people produce and control their own information. Of the Rogers support letters on the CRTC site, 636 are from guests on shows while only 75 are from producers and, of those, 32 self-identify as Rogers employees. For Cogeco the figures are 335 guests and 35 producers, ten of whom are staff. Shaw contrasts 175 guests versus 12 producers.

Looking a little deeper at the CRTC published comments, the largest category, 617 comments, simply likes having a local channel. Access is the theme for 315; being able to deliver information to the immediate neighbourhood: 213. 231 letters speak enthusiastically about volunteering as reporters or technicians, or interns from school and university media programs. 219 charities benefit from community TV, several by running TV bingo. Arts, sports, youth, multicultural and small business promotion add a further 516 comments. Of course many letters touch on several topics and choosing the main one is subjective, so these figures can all be seen as minimums. One letter from Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, makes the familiar remark that there would have been even more letters if the CRTC website was easier to navigate.

Council meetings are central for 98 writers. Revenue -- how the channel can be funded -- is the main theme for 77 letters. 130 writers say the community channel is important for access to government. In these three categories slightly over half of the letters come from people working in the public sphere: 39 from representatives at the provincial level, 9 from MPs and 107 from city officials.

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Operating Principles for Community-Access Media Fund

CACTUS has continued to refine its model for the new Community-Access Media Fund proposed in its submission to the CRTC review on community television. The oral phase begins next Monday, April 26th, with CACTUS' own presentation.

The document "Revitalizing Canada's Community TV Sector: Operating Principles for the Community-Access Media Fund" can be viewed in full here.

It includes sample budgets for multimedia access centres and timetables for the roll-out of 250 such centres Canada-wide.

The document also includes suggested board structure for the Fund itself as well as board structures for the individual multimedia centres that could apply to the fund.

Also included are operating principles for those centres, including broadcasting codes, standards, and annual reporting requirements.

For more information, contact Cathy Edwards at (819) 772-2862.

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