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CACTUS asks CRTC to reject Shaw takeover of community owned cable cooperative

The deadline for intervening in Shaw's attempt to takeover Campbell River Television was today. CRTV is one of Canada's few remaining community owned cable cooperatives. The takeover has split the community and called into question how non-commercial media organizations are regulated.

Amidst accusations of regulatory non-compliance and possible illegality, intervenors from across Canada have been demanding that the takeover be stopped.

What follows is the CACTUS submission.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Re: Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2008-1187-9
Shaw Cablesystems Application to buy CRTV (Campbell River Television)

Dears Sirs and Mesdames,

1)I am writing on behalf of the Canadian Association for Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS), which is building a bilingual national membership of independent community television channels, cable co-op community television channels, some (typically smaller) private cable companies that still practice community access television, and the public who uses and watch them.1 In preparing this intervention, CACTUS consulted members of the “Save CRTV” committee in Campbell River, and draws on the expertise of:

Catherine Edwards, who has travelled the globe researching models of community-access television during the shooting of the documentary series My TV, Your TV, Our TV.

Michael Lithgow, whose masters thesis developed a framework for assessing the effectiveness of community access television channels.

Members of the Community Media Education Society and Independent
Community TV of Vancouver, who have for ten years tenaciously continued to operate an independent community TV corporation despite enormous legislative and financial difficulties.

The Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec, the professional association representing 40 independent community television channels in Quebec.

St. Andrews Community Television in New Brunswick, holders of one of the 2002-61 low-power community broadcasting licenses.

2)CACTUS would like to oppose this sale on two grounds:

That Shaw is mismanaging cable levy funds held in trust on behalf of the public and knowingly misinterpreting the spirit and application of the community channel guidelines as stipulated in CRTC policy directive 2002-61, and the previous policy directives respecting the community channel on which 2002-61 is based. Given that CRTV is one of the few remaining true community-access television channels in English Canada, we feel that it would be a shame to see its management pass to Shaw, with a resulting likely loss of access and community control (a loss for local residents) and the resulting loss of a functioning model of community access television from which the decimatd community sector can be rebuilt in the future (a loss for Canada). Given that the CRTC has acknowledged problems in the sector and has committed to a review in 2009, we feel that any change in ownership in the interim which could further weaken the status of community access television channels should be put on hold.

That there are significant irregularities in the sale process as conducted by the current board of CRTV and Shaw. The issue of this sale has been hotly debated in the Campbell River community and press all summer, with much information being distributed in the community to a) scare the community into selling and b) offer financial incentives to the community to sell which are contrary to the BC Societies Act and the CRTV’s own constitution.

3) This intervention is therefore presented in two sections,. The information in the first section, which relates to Shaw’s fitness to operate a community-access television channel, is the same information that CACTUS submitted to CRTC public notice 2008-38, in which Shaw applied to renew licenses for its Western cablesystems.

4) The information in the second section comments on the process of the proposed sale and the turmoil it has caused in the community of Campbell River. In preparing this information, CACTUS consulted members of an ad-hoc “Save CRTV Committee” (composed of Campbell River community members and past CRTV board members and managements staff concerned about the sale process, who are also intervening to this process). CACTUS independently verified all claims made by members of this ad hoc committee by consulting original documents on the CRTV web site, the web sites of the town’s two newspapers, and the BC Government. Extracts and links to the key documents are provided either within the text of this document or in footnotes.

5) CACTUS’ comments are intended to support the interventions of Campbell River residents opposed to the sale, validate their findings, and put their struggle both into a national context and in the context of next year’s proposed review of the Canadian community TV sector.

SUMMARY OF SHAW’S RECORD MANAGING COMMUNITY TELEVISION CHANNELS

6) Shaw has been ignoring community channel policy related to:

the airing of access programming
the training of the public
access by the public to equipment and technial support for the production of access programming

on its community channels for over ten years.

7) Instead of respecting the spirit of the guidelines, which are meant to engender “high levels of citizen participation” and to enable communities to express themselves, Shaw has been increasingly commercializing its channels (as supported by the CRTC’s own findings in 2008-38), taking control of program production out of the hands of the community, and striving to immitate commercial production formats to win the maximum revenue possible through sponshorship and advertising. The result is so-called “community programming” that is unrecognizable compared to the collaborative, interactive community programming that this same company did up until 1997. The programming produced today is almost indistinguishable from that produced by commercial local broadcasters.

8) Not only has the character of programming changed in ten years, but also the volume. Because of the reliance on staff to produce programming and the exclusion of community volunteers, the volume has dropped from in excess of 35 hours of programming a week in major centres in every conceivable genre (from community news magazine, to local sports, to children’s and senior’s programming, to drama production, to self-help shows, to interactive live phone-in issues shows) to little more than a CNN-style hour-long newswheel per day that repeats all day long, in urban centres that are already well-served by multiple local television news services. So, aside from the loss of citizen access, community channels have lost most of the advantages they used to offer in terms of quantity local origination. In using volunteer labour from a wide cross-section of the community, they used to be able to produce high-volume, multi-genre programming reflecting true diversity. Because today’s “community channel” imitates commercial production formats and operations, it has fallen prey to the same resource limitations and competitive considerations that limit the depth, breadth, and diveristy of programming in the commercial sector.

9) While I have less direct experience of the operation of community channels in Shaw’s smaller systems, I know from video interviews I conducted in 2007 for the series My TV, Your TV, Our TV 2 with Shaw’s VP of Programming, Alex Park, present and former station managers in both Calgary and Winnipeg, and from anecdotal information from viewers and community producers in other parts of the country that Shaw’s policies with respect to community programming are fairly consistently applied nationwide.

THE PRODUCTION AND AIRING OF ACCESS PROGRAMMING

10) Shaw’s claim in its 2008-38 application that the amount of “access” programming aired on its systems exceeds 50% is based on a definition of “access programming” that Shaw is aware differs from the CRTC’s definition.

11) 2002-61 states that access programming is:

“programming produced by individuals or groups in the community served by the undertaking, either assisted or unassisted by the licensee”.

12) The policy goes on to say that cable companies should promote the availability of training programs related to access, and to solicit program proposals.

13) It’s clear that the intent of the policy is to put production directly in the hands of the public, and to enable them to be in charge of particular programs whose concept and approach they themselves design. In this, the community’s channel free speech mandate has not changed since the 1970s.

14) Unfortunately, Shaw’s attitude has. In speaking to Alex Park and other Shaw program managers, all espoused the current company philosophy that “access programming” is any program in which an individual or group in the community is featured or has its activities publicized. I spoke to David Campbell, the Program Manager for Shaw Calgary from 1995-2005, about this change in approach to access and to volunteers on July 18, 20073:

Cathy Edwards (After reading key parts of the CRTC 2002-61 guidelines): So it sounds like they’re coming back saying “OK, there was a bit of a mess for awhile, but we really want that some of the programming should be access programming of the old-fashioned way.” How did Shaw respond as a company when this hit the books?

David Campbell: Well, I think we responded pretty positively. Again, as we talked about before, you know, it was left—it was still—everything’s an interpretation. And we interpreted volunteer use differently. Clearly there weren’t enough volunteers or the quality of programs that people would watch on an on-going basis, so we inserted more trained people into that process… put volunteers more out front. They became the subjects of the stories. They became the people who talked about what was going on in their community.

15) To Shaw, “access” today means coverage by Shaw of you or your event (if you and your event happen to fall within their programming parameters), not access to and control over the means of production and freedom to select approach and topic. The selection of topics, the responsibility for point-of-view, and every aspect of production remains firmly in the hands of cable company staff.

16) There are also no advisory boards as stipulated in the community broadcasting policy (nor were there prior to 1997), in which communities might have a chance to complain about this situation.

17) Using this definition, it’s easy to meet the 30-50% requirement, since it’s virtually impossible to report about a community if no individuals, organizations, or groups are included. The only way to avoid them might be to focus on nature, or the state of the roads! I would ask, how is this any different than the local program production of any local commercial broadcaster? When a commercial broadcaster interviews a person about a topic, that person is not considered “a volunteer”.

18) This reinterpretation of policy has corrupted the key attribute of community programming that makes it different than a commercial or public local broadcaster, which justifies the money that is poured into it, and which define it as Canada’s “third tier”: citizen participation.

19) When I asked Mr. Park on July 18, 2007, how many individuals or groups in the community still produce a complete program, he admitted that there were only four groups in Vancouver (all of whose programs Shaw had kicked off the air between 1997 and 2002-61 and which were only reinstated when forced to do so by 2002-61) and none in Calgary:

Alex Park: Community groups will just show up with a tape and say “Here’s our programming this week. Put it on.”

Cathy Edwards: Can you give me examples of that?

Alex Park: Sure. In Vancouver, we have four major groups right now that just show up and say “Here’s my program for the week. Play it.”

Cathy Edwards: Are they doing it here in Calgary too?

Alex Park: We don’t do it here in Calgary. We do it in Vancouver. We do it in a number of other cities. Some of that is just the communities.

20) I also interviewed Allan Sayegh, Program Manager at Shaw’s Winnipeg channel, about access on August 3rd, 2007:

Cathy Edwards: The expectation by the CRTC that there should be true access of the old style for part of the programming week is pretty clear. How do you reconcile that?

Allan Sayegh: Good question… I’ll take a stab at it…Community access is still I guess in some way a little part of what we do… It’s much more difficult now than it was in the past and I have no examples on air now. I have a couple of examples in development, shall we say.

Cathy Edwards: There’s even a pretty specific part in there that says that once a year there’s supposed to be a billing insert that encourages the community to present program proposals—not just story ideas for you guys to cover—and also the availability of relevant training.

Allan Sayegh: Still says that, eh? I haven’t read 2002… That’s interesting, I had no idea.

As of last summer, the Program Manager at one of Shaw’s biggest systems was unaware of CRTC regulations governing the operation of his licensed channel.

21) Upon request, I can provide transcripts of video interviews with numerous members of the Calgary and Winnipeg communities who have asked for air time or access to production facilities since 1997 and whom have been refused. They are generally told, “That doesn’t fit our format anymore.” The message is always that the channel has become “Shaw TV”. It’s no longer the channel that the community can consider “its” channel.

TRAINING OF THE PUBLIC

22) 2002-61 states:

“The Commission considers that, in light of its final policy on access, it is appropriate that cable companies take specific and effective steps to inform and promote access to the community channel, and to provide and promote the availability of related training programs.”

23) In Shaw’s recent license renewal applications throughout Western Canada, the company claims that it offers training. For example, from the Calgary application:

“We promote Training through a variety of means including the opportunity to work on mobile coverage of local cultural and sporting events; 2 week to 2 month practicum placements from the local post-secondary schools with broadcast, journalism or communication programmes; work with these local programmes in developing television production skills by offering the full day access to our production studios and our television mobile. This access allows them real-life experiences working with modern technologies.”

24) This is the only example Shaw gives. I would ask what the other “variety of means” include.

25) All this says is that Shaw uses “volunteers” who already have training from other institutions. They are being exploited as unpaid labour while the general public, who are supposed to find access to television training and opportunities, are excluded.

26) When I asked Allan Sayegh, Program Manager of Shaw TV in Winnipeg, about training, he said:

Allan Sayegh: We don’t provide the form of access where we train anymore, that’s true. We do work very closely here in Winnipeg with Red River College and with Tech Voc. One is a high school and one is a community college… That’s where a lot of our freelancers come from. We’re actually providing up-and-coming producers, shooters, producer, editors and so on with an opportunity to hone their skills. So we still do that, but it’s not the same as it was.

27) When I was the Volunteer Co-ordinator and principal volunteer trainer at Shaw’s head office in Calgary from 1993-96, Shaw offered year-round training to ANYONE, from orientation, to courses in audio, camera, mobile, graphics, control room techniques, hosting, editing, producing and ENG shooting. These were formal courses with planned and printed course agendas and workbooks that general members of the public had access to at no charge, not ad hoc on-the-job “training” as described in Shaw’s license application. Shaw is allowing unpaid students to participate as crew on large productions that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive to produce.

28) Shaw is hereby keeping television experience within the industry (students already engaged in a professional training process). No invitation is being extended to those outside to participate in the production process.

ACCESS TO EQUIPMENT AND TECHNICAL SUPPORT TO PRODUCE ACCESS PROGRAMMING

29) The claims in Shaw’s supporting documents about community TV from Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver about soliciting program proposals and advertising the availability of training are misleading. The Program Managers in both Winnipeg and Calgary told me that they solicit only ideas for short clips that staff then produce as part of the daily newswheel.

30) Shaw’s claims that they don’t get much response to their advertisements are also misleading. When opportunities genuinely exist and the community channel is receptive to programming ideas and to giving technical assistance and support, word travels fast. During the period that I worked at Shaw in Calgary, training courses were always full, with no outside explicit advertising of any kind. The programming schedule was always full with proposals from producers in the community. We had waiting lists. This is a universal experience for community TV in large Canadian centres, and continues to be the status quo in other Western countries where true community-access TV is practiced and offered.

31) The times have not “changed” in this sense as Shaw has claimed over the years. Interest in and dominance of TV of an art from has not waned. In fact, the popularity of Internet-based sites such as YouTube vouch for the continuing need for ordinary people to express themselves using video and to find an audience. The general public has been forced to find alternative venues as they have been increasingly edged off television. They persevere, despite the poorer technical quality, fractured and ad-hoc audiences, lack of production support and direction, and lack of a coherent community programming schedule and viewing public that community TV stations in Canada used to provide.

32) If Shaw claims it advertises and is getting no response, it’s not doing its job. Community facilitation has always been a part of the responsibility of the holder of the cable license, and this is no different thirty years further on, as stipulated in 2002-61. It’s a measure of the degree to which the access component has been eroded that CRTC policy writers felt they had to stipulate that a billing insert soliciting program proposals should be included at least once a year (as if that would be sufficient to rebuild a dynamic volunteer pool after years of neglect). Cable companies used to build up these relationships with the community naturally through their genuine outreach and community involvement year-round.

THE USE OF VOLUNTEES

33) Not only is it now rare on Shaw systems for volunteers to produce programs or to exercise creative control, the number of volunteers (other than trained broadcast students) that participate in all technical roles of television production has dropped to a tiny percentage of what it once was. When I left Shaw in 1997, Shaw Calgary had an active roster of 400 volunteers. At its peak, the Shaw Vancouver-area offices welcomed in excess of 1200. That’s just two of the systems held by Shaw in Western Canada covered by the current license application. I asked Alex Park in our interview how many volunteers now access the system (in all roles):

Cathy Edwards: How many volunteers are active at the moment?

Alex Park: I would say, across all of Shaw, about 200.

Cathy Edwards: You mean in Calgary here?

Alex Park: No, I mean across all of Shaw… So we, have that component… but… you know, we don’t… If the Commission sort of says, “That’s OK” then we’re OK.

34) This is fewer than the number of Shaw community television employees.

35) When I asked Mr. Park how he could justify this, he claimed that the nature of the community and people’s willingness to volunteer has changed:

Alex Park: What we find is that it is actually much harder to get people to come and volunteer and make that commitment and the 3 or 4 people a year who might want to make their own show… Things have changed. People’s lives have changed. People are no longer willing… They no longer go to cocktail parties and say, “You know what, I’m a volunteer of the community channel.” Who cares, actually?

36) In fact, an Ipsos Reid survey done in 2005 for Calgary, Shaw’s headquarters, showed that 71% of Calgarians regularly volunteer an average of 14.6 hours per month, compared to a national average of only 27%. Of this 71%, 49% said they volunteered because of a skill that they wanted to learn. It would seem, therefore, that Shaw’s headquarters is located in a particularly fertile potential volunteer pool.4

37) Mr. Park concluded this section of our interview with the following:

Alex Park: I guess having been at this for about thirty years, having started out really in the very early days of what we would consider pure access, I’ve come to the conclusion that the community is better served by the model we currently have. And, I’ve been through all of the access issues, every kind of community group, I’ve seen them, I’ve worked with them, I’ve helped them put their programs together. My personal view is that the community is no better today as a result of that—none. I can’t see anything. So while there was all sorts of effort and angst and things that went into that process, I would challenge anyone to put their hand up and say “Here’s how the city of Calgary has been improved by the fact that we had a bunch of people in the studio making their shows.”

38) The VP of Programming for Shaw neither believes in nor makes any attempt to implement the access principle throughout Shaw’s cablesystems. The only example he could give of the access principle still being applied came from Vancouver, in which 2002-61’s four-hour per week allocation of air time to groups outside Shaw has been the subject of bitter battles for ten years, as the CRTC’s record of complaints shows.

DESTRUCTION OF PROGRAMMING ARCHIVES

39) I would like to make a final comment about the inappropriateness of Shaw being the custodian/administrator of the cable levy and of the community tier in the broadcasting system throughout Western Canada.

40) Since 1997, the entire pre-1997 programming archives at both Shaw TV in Calgary and in Winnipeg have been destroyed by Shaw staff. All true access programming in both cities--a vital and irreplaceable record of each city’s social, political, artistic, and community history over nearly a 30-year-period--is gone. All that remains are a few VHS copies scattered among the basements of ex-volunteers and community producers.

41) When I asked Allan Sayegh about the loss of the Winnipeg archive, he said:

Allan Sayegh: I have a whole room of tapes. I don’t go in there very often because I get a headache when I look at them all, but I think we have, I’m sure we have things that go back for years…”

Cathy Edwards: Prior to 1997, though? That was the year of the format change.

Allan Sayegh: I don’t think we’ve thrown them out. Every so often we get onto a jag about you know we got too much junk in this place, we have to throw it out, but tapes have never been a part of that. So, I believe we have things around… I don’t know.

42) I verified with Mr. Sayegh’s staff (and checked the archives myself) that nothing prior to 1997 is still held by Shaw in Winnipeg. To save a small part of this important history, Dorthi Dunsmore, Winnipeg’s first community programming manager (who has submitted an intervention to this process), deposited a few tapes with the Manitoba Archives.

43) I also checked with current Shaw TV Calgary staff about the survival of any pre-1997 tapes. Nadine Sampson, the traffic co-ordinator at the time (who has submitted an intervention to this process), confirmed that she was told to dispose of older tapes. She salvaged a few by offering them to their community producers.

44)We feel that this demonstrates perhaps more than any other single point that a private for-profit company is not the appropriate custodian of this history nor the appropriate administrator of the on-going operations of a community-access TV channel. Shaw as a company, has shown a particularly reckless disregard for genuine access production since 1997.

45) A DVD giving examples of both Shaw’s “community programming” in Vancouver prior to and post 1997 (the year in which the company first began to exclude the public from its community programming) has been filed in person at the CRTC’s Gatineau headquarters. The DVD also includes some of the clips from the interviews with Shaw staff whose transcripts have been quoted. The full interviews are available on request.

IRREGULARITIES IN THE SALE PROCESS IN CAMPBELL RIVER

46) CRTV has been providing cable service to Campbell River for 50 years, and has the lowest cable rates in Canada. Even the most casual perusal of documents on CRTV’s web site5 shows a record of member/customer satisfaction and pride in a locally run service.

47) With respect to Shaw’s application to buy CRTV, there appear to be four serious irregularities:

At the CRTV’s most recent AGM on November 28, 2007, a record of 443 members were in attendance and overwhelmingly voted to turn down an offer by Shaw to sell. To quote the CRTV’s record of this meeting:

The open mike session began with a clear message in the form of a motion “that the offer from Shaw be received and filed with no further action taken”. This motion was immediately seconded and received a nearly unanimous vote. The following parade of speakers spoke strongly to the benefits of keeping CRTV local even if the price of basic cable had to increase. There was a very clear message from the floor… “We are not for sale!”6

At the election of board members which followed on December 3rd, 2007, the directors renewed their commitment to respect the mandate given them by their members to invest in new infrastructure, to remain competitive, and to keep the service local.

This strategy, to update the infrastructure through a cable fee increase (which still resulted in fees lower than those in most parts of Canada) appears to have been pursued by the CRTV board until April 30th, 2008, when Shaw obtained administrative approval from the CRTC to extend its existing service area into the service area of Campbell River.

When both CACTUS and concerned CRTV members made inquiries with the CRTC earlier in the year, we were told that an “administrative approval” (without a public hearing) can be granted in cases in which there is precedent and “no policy issues” are raised:

“With respect to the procedure followed to process Shaw’s proposed extension of service area, the Commission determined, in the interest of a more timely disposition of applications, that extensions to existing service territories would be handled on an administrative basis (i.e., without public comment process) in Broadcasting Circular 2006-1, Streamlined processes for certain broadcasting applications, 27 March 2006. In so doing, the Commission stated that it would issue letters of approval for such applications, provided they do not raise any policy concerns and are consistent with previous decisions. The application by Shaw to extend its service area to include Campbell River, as detailed above, fulfils these requirements and was therefore approved on an administrative basis.7”

When I spoke with members of the Distribution Group at the CRTC, I was told that such “administrative approvals” are more typically granted in cases in which a new housing development appears on the borders of an existing BDU service area, not a case such as in Campbell River, in which the area in question is already served by another organization. I also made the point at that time that in fact there WAS a policy issue at stake with Shaw’s request, which is Shaw’s poor record with respect to community-access television and the potential of its competition in the area to damage a thriving and locally controlled operation. (This record of Shaw’s was a contributing factor to Shaw’s failure to obtain a full-length license renewal for its Western systems earlier this year.) However, at the time, I was told that there is no appeal process to a CRTC “administrative approval” other than to obtain an Order in Council stopping the service area extension.

Despite the spectre of competition with a cable giant, the CRTV board nonetheless held to its mandate, as shown by this extract from a CRTV April 30th, 2008 press release:

What better way to show off the value of CRTV than by a little healthy competition! Facing recent news that Shaw will be attempting to enter the Campbell River market, CEO Jim Forsyth is confident in the 50-plus year track record of CRTV. CRTV is well-positioned on product, price, quality of service and unique local programming. It is a gem in the world of media and a company that members can be proud of.8

The release goes on to compare CRTV’s Cambpell River service to the service provided by Shaw in neighbouring Comox Valley. On every point, CRTV’s current service is cheaper and offers more choice.

Furthermore, conversations with members and technicians of CRTV indicate that that $10 per month rate increase that was implemented by the board (from $16 to $26 per month) was based on a comprehensive plan to extend the co-operative’s offerings to include Internet, cell phone service, and video-on-demand. These individuals claim that the plans were realistic and achievable, that new equipment was ordered, and the negotiations had been begun with Bell regarding cell phone service.

With respect to claims by some interveners to this process that CRTV cannot hope to compete with Shaw going forward, I have seen no evidence that this is the case, and they offer none. On the contrary, CRTV has competed successfully in the past, currently offers a superior and cheaper service (no doubt one reason why Shaw would like to remove them as competiton), and had made a coherent plan moving forward. While CACTUS attempted to obtain a copy of the technical plan that must surely have been drafted at the time of the rate increase last year, CRTV members opposed to the sale say they were denied access to documents by the CRTV board. I would recommend that if the CRTC has any doubts about the ability of the CRTV to compete with Shaw in the future, that you ask for access to this plan.

Meanwhile, on October 1st, 2007, Shaw had sent a document entitled Roadmap to Acquisition to the CRTV board, enumerating how a sale would proceed, culminating in a cash payment to each member:

“Step 10: Approximately 30 days after receipt of the last of the necessary approvals, we would close the deal. At this time, the distribution of cash to your members would take place.”9

On October 29, 2007, Shaw sent a household-to-household letter to CRTV members directly offering them each $3,000 for the value of their stake in CRTV:

“Members of the Cambpell River Television Association would financially benefit from our merger with each member’s share valued at $3000 a piece.”10

This is the first significant irregularity in the process, since this offer violates the BC Societies Act, as confirmed in the following extract from a September 22, 2008 letter from Jim Hopkins, Assistant Deputy Minister, BC Provincial Treasury and Registries, to Larry Widen of the “Save CRTV” committee:

“Section 73(1) of the Societies Act clearly prohibits a charitable society from distributing assets among its members. This provision is also consistent with section 2(2) of the Act”, which allows a society to carry on a business, trade, industry or profession as an incident to the purposes of the society, provided the society does not distribute any gain, profit or divident or otherwise dispose of its assets to a member of the society.”11

Between April 30 and June 23rd 2008, the CRTV’s board began conducting meetings with Shaw considering a potential sale, overturning its mandate. Its change in attitude appears to be a result both of the monetary offer made to CRTV’s 13,000+ members, as well as to the circulation of misinformation that if Shaw were to compete with CRTV and build its own infrastructure in Campbell River, that it would have the power to deny CRTV access to cable television signals and bandwidth.

In a May 7th 2008 release assessing Shaw’s offer, the Board wrote:

“In light of the fact of increased competition in Campbell River plus the reality that small "Class 1" Cable TV systems have all but disappeared across Canada it is prudent for the Board to consider all options available to CRTV. Factors that the Board are taking into consideration include:
1.Shaw Cable has been given permission to move into Campbell River by installing their own cable system to compete with CRTV….
2.That small independent Cable TV systems in Canada now represent less than 3.5% of the total Cable and Satellite customers in Canada. The cost of sale for programming, materials and labor are considerably higher than the competition.
3.That CRTV purchases all of it's television programming and internet backbone services from its competitors.”

While #2 appears not to have been true, given the comparison of CRTV’s to Shaw’s rates and services, #3 implies that Shaw might have the power to deny CRTV access to services, which contravenes CRTC policy. The “Save CRTV” committee says that this misperception was and is still being widely circulated in Campbell River to scare members into selling.

This decision by board members to ignore the mandate given them at the preceding AGM and to promote an environment of misinformation is the second irregularity.

The third irregularity, is that according to the CRTV’s original constitution, 75% of its total membership of 13,000+ must endorse any decision to sell in writing. This was confirmed publicly in a CRTV October 31, 2007 press release:

Bylaw 106 makes it very clear that a decision to sell CRTV must be supported by a clear process. That process is written authorization by 75% of the members of the society.”12

In making its purchase offer, Shaw was aware that this clause in the CRTV constitution constituted a poison pill to ensure that ownership of the co-operative remained within the community, and that the constitution would have to be changed. Step 8 in Shaw’s Roadmap to Acquisition states:

“The CRTV members would hold a meeting to amend their By-laws and vote on Shaw’s offer.”

At the August 23rd, 2008 meeting of the CRTV membership, two motions were carried, one to change the CRTV’s bylaws such that only 75% of members present at the meeting were sufficient to carry a motion to sell. In the second motion, 93% of members present (fewer than 300 of the total membership of 13,780 members, or less than 1%!!) voted to sell. According to the BC Societies Act, an amendment to a bylaw must be registered with the Societies Registrar before it can be used.

The Registrar has confirmed that it rejected the resolution to amend CRTV’s bylaws as submitted by the Board on August 28th:

“On August 28, the registry rejected an initial request by Campbell River T.V. Association to file a resolution amending the society’s bylaws… The amended working purported to apply retroactively to special resolutions, despite section 23(1)(a) of the Act, which provides that a resolution to change a society’s bylaws is not effective until filed with the registrar.”13

No subsequent vote has been taken by the CRTV membership that would give the Board permission to sell.

48) In light of these irregularities, it would appear that Shaw’s attempt to buy CRTV is invalid. 75% of the CRTV’s total membership did not approve the sale in writing.

49) As a third party concerned about the ability of communities to have access to their own communication systems, CACTUS feels that undue haste and misinformation has informed this process. If more than 75% of the total membership of this community-run cable co-operative really wants to sell its cable infrastructure and management of its community channel along with it, CACTUS, of course, could not oppose it. However, in light of:

the fact that the last AGM of this Society indicated an overwhelming desire on the part of the community to keep its cable service local, and

that the mood and behaviour of the CRTV Board of Directors and of the 1% of the total membership who attended and voted to sell at the August 23rd meeting only changed subsequent to the distribution within the community of misinformation concerning the possibility of a $3,000 cash payout and the potential for Shaw to cut off signals from CRTC,

that there are significant legal irregularities that have not yet been fully investigated by the BC Registrar of Societies.

that the sale of CRTV would result in less competition in service in both Campbell River and the surrounding areas, contrary to the intent of the CRTC’s April 30, 2008 administrative approval to Shaw that it be allowed to extend its service area. (As noted on the CRTV web site, Shaw’s Star Choice rival offering had been performing poorly compared to the CRTV’s home-grown service.) In addition, as already stated (details available in the footnoted documents), Shaw’s cable service offerings in other parts of Vancouver Island are inferior to those offered by CRTV. So, not only would there be less competition, but inferior service, and without competition, no motivation on the part of Shaw to improve service.

and that the future of one of English Canada’s few surviving true community access channels is at stake

CACTUS feels the matter merits a full hearing, with the possibility that members of the community in question could participate fully (i.e. a hearing held in Campbell River). We also feel that the current hearing dates (Nov. 13 for the submission of written comments, and Dec. 8th for the closed hearing in Gatineau) are premature, as the BC Societies Act has not yet rendered a final decision concerning the legality of the sale. Once their ruling is public, if it becomes clear that a $3,000 payout to members is not possible, there’s every reason to think that a second (this time legitimate) vote on a sale by the full membership would not pass.

50) CACTUS would also like to make the following suggestions as possible compromises:

If it is determined (CACTUS has no evidence that it is so, but should it turn it turn out to be so) that CRTV as an organization lacks the access to capital necessary to compete going forward, The CRTV board and/or Shaw might like to consider the precedent set by cable co-operatives in Quebec such as the Cooperative de Cablodistribution de Les Eboulements in Quebec city, in which Dery Telecom leases the cable infrastructure from the co-operative. A similar arrangement in Campbell River would give the Campbell River community control of its communication system and community channel over the long term, continuing its 50-year tradition, as well as on-going revenue. This would in the long term be better financially for the community, than a one-time questionably legal sale. A part of the on-going profits from cable service would stay in the community, the community could continue to operate its own community channel, and Shaw would have an opportunity to offer services.

Given Shaw’s poor history of respecting community access to the community channels within its license areas, if the sale of the cable infrastructure proceeds for whatever reason, 2002-61 provides for the possibility that CRTV could retain ownership of the community channel equipment, facilities, and archives, and continue to operate the community television service using the 5% cable levy from Shaw. With Shaw’s record, CACTUS does not believe it should be allowed to buy and operate Campbell River’s community channel under any circumstances.

These suggestions may or may not fulfill the aspirations of the members of CRTV, who, upon full disclosure of all information, may wish to retain full control and delivery of the cable service in their community as voted at their November 2007 AGM. But either option would at least guarantee autonomy in the running of the Campbell River community TV channel and a continued voice for Campbell River residents.

51) Finally, CACTUS feels that no sales should be approved that might weaken the already beleaguered community-access TV sector, particularly in English Canada, prior to the full sector review that is planned for 2009. We feel that nothing can be gained through a hasty process.

For Shaw, Campbell River is small potatoes and in no way hampers its ability to expand its business in other parts of the country or into other industries. On the contrary, the continued existence of CRTV represents healthy competition for Shaw, and an example of how to run a cheaper and more community-friendly cable service.

For Campbell River, a 50-year cable operation and local access channel is at stake, as well as the potential that revenue from this operation should be lost to the community forever. (We note that several intervening members of CRTV who support the sale, argue for the short-term benefits of the as-yet unapproved distribution of $3,000 per member, which will soon be spent.) The appendices to Geoff Goodship’s intervention provides a detailed breakdown of this long-term loss.

For Canada, one of the few remaining viable models of community-controlled communication will be lost, just at that moment when we have realized what a proud community-access history we have, and that its infrastructure needs to be strengthened. We are pioneers who have been copied world-wide, thanks to CRTC visionaries of the past. Just last week, MJ Kim, a prominent media activist from South Korea told me that the NFB “Challenge for Change” newsletters that outlined the principles of community access in this country continue to inspire those who push for a more democratic, participative media in South Korea.

Catherine Edwards
CACTUS
(The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations)
www.cactusmedia.ca

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CACTUS asks CRTC to keep community channel in basic cable package

CACTUS member Cathy Edwards is presenting today at the CRTC hearings on cable company regulations. One of the questions put on the table by the Commission is the removal of the community channel from the basic cable package. This would cripple community television as an effective medium for community participation and local reflection.

Watch the hearings live by clicking here.

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Is community TV facing its Waterloo? A response

The following is a letter written by Sid Tan to the Globe & Mail in response to Marsha Lederman's article: Is community TV facing its Waterloo? published on April 10, 2008

Sid Tan is a community television producer and activist with ACCESS TV (Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society) and the Slim Evans Society (producer of Working TV). His current projects include Fearless TV and Salt Water City Television in Vancouver.

Dear Editors.

Just over ten years ago, government regulators and cable companies delivered a near lethal blow to community television. The government ruling and self-serving interpretation by dominant cable operators Rogers and Shaw led to the dismantling of community television volunteer networks and local office infrastructure and resources in Metro Vancouver. This near death scenario continues, seemingly with government and corporate collusion, and begs for a judicial review. As
well, the Auditor General should review the $800-million in public money handed to cable companies across Canada on behalf of community television the past ten years. That's $60-million to Rogers and Shaw in Metro Vancouver the last ten years.

In 2003, a Senate (the Lincoln) report stated its "frustration" and "dismay" that no information exists on what happens to cable company expenditures on behalf of community television. There's no way to find out if citizens got their money's worth!

In Public Broadcasting Notice 1997-25:131, the government regulator responsible to the Minister of Canadian Heritage - the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) - handed community television to cable companies. It boldly and trustingly states: "This policy reflects the Commission's belief that opportunities for local expression would continue to be provided in the absence of a regulatory requirement. In the Commission's view,
after more than twenty-five years of operation, the community channel has achieved a level of maturity and success such that it no longer needs to be mandated. Apart from its benefits to the public through local reflection, the community channel provides cable operators with a highly effective medium to establish a local presence and to promote a positive corporate image for themselves."

The Commission's boldness was mistaken and its trust misplaced. On November 19, 1996, more than three months before the new policy announcement, Rogers began shutting down its neighbourhood television offices, beginning with 1010 Commercial Drive. Thousands of volunteers and dozens of staff worked in this and another sixteen or so community
television studios and offices throughout Metro Vancouver. In Vancouver alone, there was a full studio along with four neighbourhood community television offices ñ two in Kitsilano, one in the West End and the Commercial Drive location. Volunteer community-based productions such as Complaint Department, Production Parade, Metro Magazine, Chinatown Today, Global Justice, Pressure Point and East Side Story dominated the then Rogers cable community channel. The
programming opportunities, production training in local offices, mentorship and extensive volunteer networks are all but gone from Shaw, now the dominant cable operator in the region through a swap of assets with Rogers in 2001.

Shortly after Rogers announced the closure of the Commercial Drive office, the volunteers there hastily constituted a not-for-profit society to weather the anticipated corporate assault on community television. Rogers, taking flak for the closures, agreed to support the volunteers for two years while Community Media Education Society was organised to safeguard the spirit and legacy of community television. Two workgroups developed. One to work on regulatory and
public education efforts and the other to continued the production of community television programs. The production workgroup begat three not-for-profit community television corporations. First came Independent Community Television Co-operative, then Vancouver Community Television Association and ACCESS TV (Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society), which initiated and helps produce FearlessTV and Saltwater City Television. Along with the Slim Evans Society, best known for its Working TV, all now have regular timeslots on Shaw's local cable community channel. None receives any of the public funds collected by Shaw - an estimate $6-million annually in Metro Vancouver.

Now the Shaw's cable community channel is called Shaw TV and its community television in Metro Vancouver is directed from the Shaw tower at Coal Harbour. Ironically, with a studio there, volunteers from Vancouver need to go to Surrey for studio production in a building which also serves as a Shaw retail office and storage. Volunteers from Port Moody need to come to downtown Vancouver to pick up a camera to do a shoot in Port Moody and return the gear. Shaw's appreciation of community-based volunteers is underscored by their miserly ways towards them. Volunteers and non-profit groups pay for
all transportation, parking, refreshment and majority of tape expenses for their productions. Yet Shaw has the public money to provide the same to its production personnel, including company vehicles. More miserly and destructive was the shutdown of local offices and studios and laying off production staff over the past ten years. Shaw continues to believe and explain community television is better after cuts to local offices and staff and loss of the volunteer network. These are dastardly deeds and show Shaw's corporate greed trumping community need.

A judicial review is in order. The Broadcasting Act clearly states the Canadian broadcast system is comprised of public, private and community elements providing a public service essential to the maintenance and enhancement of national identity and cultural sovereignty. Yet the CRTC, our broadcast regulator mandated to uphold the Broadcasting Act, believes the community element no longer needs to be a regulatory requirement for cable operators. The resultant
confusion allowed cable companies such as Shaw to refuse broadcast of programs produced by not-for-profits. This was a clear violation of CRTC rules and the spirit of community television.

A judicial review may explain why cable companies receive and control the entire cable community channel levy, leaving not-for-profit groups to fundraise for their community television needs. There is no logic when community programming produced by volunteers is only available by subscribing to a corporate service. Unbelievably, the CRTC says Vancouver cannot have a low power community television is because there is no room on the broadcast spectrum. There's room for public and private broadcasters but none for the community. How is that fair?

Canada has played a central role in the development of community television and is considered by many to be the birthplace of community broadcasting. The community element was developed to provide local groups with training to access to the broadcasting system. Community broadcasting, which is local, volunteer-based and largely not-for-profit, is often able to broadcast a diverse range of voices, alternative points of view, and innovative programming ideas. In January 2008, CRTC Broadcasting Public Notice 2008-4 announced a comprehensive review of its policies with respect to community-based radio and television. The objective of this review will be to ensure that the Commission's regulatory policy supports the development of a healthy community broadcasting sector. Over two months have passed and
there is still no information available on when the review will begin.

Given the community television carnage wrought by Shaw and Rogers in Metro Vancouver, one could say the CRTC's review is too little to late. At the least, the Auditor General should let citizens know what happened to the $800-million in public money given to cable companies. The worrisome lesson here is that the federal government can hand the
public trust of community television to cable companies, who want citizens to be passive consumers and not active makers of media.

For more on community television, go to www.crtc.gc.ca and see CRTC Broadcasting Public Notices 1991-59, 1997-25 and 2002-61. You can email cmes@vcn.bc.ca if you want to get involved in community television.

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C.M.E.S. Responds to CRTC Rejection of Innovative Community TV Licence Application (Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2008-19)

Ultimately it's about the money. Canada's $80 million annual broadcast distribution levy has created the modern hybrid community channel, a community-corporate partnership where the entire tax is returned to the company to be used for business promotion.

When CRTC commissioners rejected the C.M.E.S. application to provide the community channel for the Telus TV distribution network, they considered three issues. The middle issue is that C.M.E.S. might not be able to provide a community channel without revenue from Telus. From its own resources C.M.E.S. is being asked to fund this channel. The CRTC suggests advertising, going into not-for-profit competition with commercial TV.

In fact cable companies are seeing dramatic advertising revenue growth on community TV ─ $5 million in 2005, money that once would have been available to broadcasters to help fund Canada's entertainment industry. Now some cable companies have become so financially dominant they can refuse to pay the tax that helps finance the Canadian Television Fund.

The third reason given by the CRTC for rejecting the C.M.E.S. application is that distribution of shows for Alberta and BC would come from Calgary and Vancouver. Production would take place in all fourteen communities covered under the Telus licence, independent shows controlled by residents in those communities, but the CRTC did not consider that to be sufficiently local. Until Terrace and Lethbridge can have a full local schedule financed by local subscribers they can't have anything.

The mayor of Medicine Hat disagreed, the mayor of Prince George disagreed, and twenty-five other people representing municipalities, universities or themselves disagreed; but that was not enough to convince the CRTC. Once Vancouver's community channel had eleven neighbourhood offices. Now we see centralized programming throughout the Lower Mainland and beyond. Thousands of volunteers have been replaced by a few paid professionals. Is it finally time for municipalities to manage the system, guaranteeing channel access in the same way that public libraries are open to everyone, especially since for community TV a funding structure is already in place?

The first reason the CRTC uses to reject participatory public access TV in BC and Alberta begins by acknowledging C.M.E.S. strengths. C.M.E.S. is genuinely structured for community control of its management, operations and programs. C.M.E.S. has operated on a volunteer basis for more than a decade, along with other community TV groups in Canada who constantly have to turn away volunteers. In spite of that, the CRTC doubts that starting out with part-time workers and volunteers is practical. Until everyone can be paid no one can be paid.

Canada's $80 million community channel tax on imported US TV signals is paid annually by all Broadcast Distribution Undertakings (an exceptionally clumsy phrase, usually shortened to BDUs.) In English-speaking Canada cable companies administer the tax they pay, much as if you managed the details of how your income tax is spent. Not-for-profit societies may receive the channel funding if community programming otherwise would not be available. This is the clause that C.M.E.S. has just tested unsuccessfully. If BDUs breach the Key Elements of the CRTC 2002-61 Community Channel Policy they also forfeit the levy money but the CRTC monitors compliance only when there's a public complaint. Parliament has been told that "virtually no information exists on what happens as a result of cable company expenditures" (Our Cultural Sovereignty, Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, June 2003, page 368).

Judging by their decisions, CRTC commissioners believe in strong businesses. Once Canada spent money to encourage political participation, recognizing the importance of public discussion to a nation. At the moment an almost religious faith in rugged individual anti-social economics blinds too many policy makers. The vogue for small government was not supposed to entrench big business but that's where the power has gone.

This decision against C.M.E.S. is equally problematic for Telus who will find it even harder to meet the local standard laid down here. When the Broadcasting Act included community television as one of the three pillars of Canada's broadcasting identity, when Pierre Juneau and Frank Spiller set out to involve us all as television producers, not just as consumers of American shows, they knew that the community channel would need secure funding. Like health care and education and its own armed forces, Canada needed to support community TV financially. Later when the argument came into fashion that all government services could be provided more efficiently by private businesses, the $80 million annually for community TV was irresistible to the private sector. The result was that all other social services began to suffer from the lack of discussion and promotion that had been provided by community television.

If the CRTC is true to its public trust, the only possible reason it might have had to reject the C.M.E.S. application is that C.M.E.S. did not set its sights high enough. Throughout the hearing process no one ever expressed any doubt that C.M.E.S. could operate a community channel. At the Kelowna public hearing C.M.E.S. director Brock MacLachlan pointed out the financial Catch 22 where credit unions and foundations require core funding before grants and loans will be given. C.M.E.S. made it very clear in Kelowna that its application was all about the money.

BDUs talk about competition but in fact a few cable companies retain the lions' share of subscribers, whether the competition is from little multipoint businesses or big telephone companies. Now in the Canadian Television Fund hearings a couple of cable companies like surly teenagers have become big enough to take a swing at their parent. If our government can be bullied then we have no government at all; or, even worse, we have government by large corporations. Without effective and sufficient taxation we always will have weak government. It has to be about the money.

Law courts and concentrated capital are powerful but nothing is as powerful as an idea that is right for its time. Community TV was founded on eight Key Elements, listed on page 333 of Our Cultural Sovereignty. These Key Elements are conspicuous by their absence on corporate community channels.

The best explanation for the CRTC decision against C.M.E.S. would be CRTC fears that the Telus web-based system won't succeed against its cable competitors. C.M.E.S. energy and, worse still, the enthusiasm of volunteer producers would be depleted to no purpose. That would explain why Telus got the licence in 2003 but the C.M.E.S. application was delayed til late 2007. The CRTC most likely recognizes that a favourable decision for the Telus system may not be enough to reinvigorate community TV. Nonetheless the C.M.E.S. application was necessary to see whether volunteers had the determination to carry the process through to a decision.

The real challenge is in Canada's major cities: creating a participatory public access community channel under independent control with full BDU funding. Whether this is done by municipalities or not-for-profit community groups, it must be done. The Community programming undertaking provision in CRTC 2002-61 states that the community channel must be operated according to CRTC 2002-61 Key Elements. If it can be proven in Vancouver that this is not being done, then $5 million is available there annually to support civic issues, public discussion and all-around fun. The same opportunity exists in Calgary and all of Canada's communities, large and small. This is the only tax most BDUs ever pay. It's all about the money.

Richard Ward
Director, C.M.E.S.

Link to Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2008-19

*** End of document ***

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Venezuela government supports community television in response to “savage” opposition media campaign

In a surprise move, the Venezuela government has donated audio-visual production equipment to 69 community television facilities across the country. The Communication and Information Minister Andres Izarra, speaking to over 400 community television representatives in Caracas, said that community television has a crucial role to play in the struggle for truth. The donation comes in response to what has been described as a “savage” opposition media campaign currently underway by Globovision.

The donation has been well received by community television producers, according to Jhonny Pancho, representative of Catia TV, one of Venezuela's oldest community television stations. As for any perceived influence peddling by the government, Pancho and Caita TV president Gabriel Gil were adamant that community television remains independent of government.

Community television responds to people's needs rather than government needs, said Gil. More than 70 per cent of the programming is produced by community collectives.

Go to venezuelanalysis.com for the more story.

Also, for some background check out Justin Podur's piece on Znet.

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CRTC Awards Compensation to Citizen's Advocacy Group for Cost of Preparing Submission

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.

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Our Quebec Friends' View on 2007-10

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.

Lors de la soirée d’ouverture du congrès 2007, Gérald Gauthier, agent de recherche et de développement à la Fédération, a dressé un compte-rendu de la situation. Il a rappelé les grands enjeux de ce processus de déréglementation et comment ils affecteront les TVC autonomes si le CRTC allait de l’avant.

En fait, pour une seconde fois en moins de 10 ans, l’avenir de la télévision communautaire de proximité est à nouveau menacé. La présence à l’écran des émissions locales et d’accès de chacune des communautés pourrait être diluée sur un canal communautaire desservant plusieurs zones de desserte. Le canal communautaire pourrait ne plus être au service de base des abonnés. Il pourrait devenir un service facultatif accessible seulement aux abonnés qui paieraient un volet supplémentaire. Il s’agit d’affirmations conditionnelles, mais bien réelles au regard de la flexibilité réglementaire exigée par les câblodistributeurs canadiens.

Cet Avis est donc présenté dans un contexte où le CRTC propose une approche qui vise à réduire la réglementation au strict minimum tout en voulant soi-disant assurer la poursuite des objectifs de la Loi sur la radiodiffusion. Cette approche doit se fier le plus possible aux forces du marché selon les termes utilisés par le CRTC. C’est que les câblodistributeurs et les distributeurs par satellite évoluent de plus en plus dans un environnement concurrentiel. De plus, l’émergence et les progrès de la technologie numérique de distribution de services de programmation aux abonnés nécessitent d’importants investissements. Le passage à la haute définition (HD) va aussi demander des investissements majeurs. Dans ce contexte, les câblodistributeurs cherchent à réduire les coûts d’exploitation de leurs réseaux. L’interconnexion des systèmes de câble d’une région à une autre est une manière de réduire les coûts fixes. Or, selon eux, la réglementation actuelle du canal communautaire, exigeant une conformité par zone de desserte, est un frein à leurs efforts de réduction des coûts.

Conformément aux prescriptions du Cadre stratégique pour les médias communautaires (Cadre stratégique) publiés le 10 octobre 2002 par le CRTC à la suite d’une longue bataille visant à rétablir la place des TVC sur les canaux communautaires, les modifications apportées en 2003 au Règlement sur la distribution de radiodiffusion (le Règlement) obligent en effet les distributeurs à offrir les services de programmation dans le respect de certaines normes précises. C’est particulièrement le cas avec le canal communautaire. Ce dernier, lorsqu’il est offert par le câblodistributeur, doit présenter une programmation prioritairement locale au regard de la zone de desserte pour laquelle le câblodistributeur est autorisé à exploiter la licence de distribution de radiodiffusion. La programmation locale doit alors représenter 60 % de l’ensemble de la programmation hebdomadaire. La programmation produite par les membres de la communauté desservie doit, pour sa part, refléter 30 % de la grille horaire hebdomadaire. Les télévisions communautaires autonomes (TVC autonomes) sont les principales productrices du contenu local et d’accès des collectivités sur les différents canaux communautaires.

Déjà, malgré le Cadre stratégique pour les médias communautaires et la consolidation de plusieurs aspects cruciaux par des modifications au Règlement, des protections minimales telle l’obligation de diffusion de 60 % de programmation locale par semaine de radiodiffusion dans une zone de desserte autorisée, ont pu être contournées par des conditions de licence octroyées à des câblodistributeurs. Les modifications par conditions particulières de licence sont des pratiques qui se généralisent partout au Canada. Au Québec, Cogeco Câble peut désormais calculer le pourcentage de programmation locale et celui d’accès sur un regroupement de zones de desserte autorisées. Il s’agit de son approche par secteur. De son côté, Vidéotron a obtenu une condition de licence qui lui permet de calculer ses pourcentages de programmation locale et d’accès sur deux zones de desserte autorisées de classe 2 : les licences de Saint-Félicien et de Dolbeau-Mistassini. Comme mentionné plus tôt, du point de vue des câblodistributeurs, l’interconnexion des zones de desserte et le virage numérique militent en faveur d’un assouplissement de la réglementation, particulièrement celles qui régissent l’exploitation du canal communautaire. Or, pour les TVC autonomes, une déréglementation outrancière mettrait en péril les principes fondamentaux de leur existence. Ces principes sont : le maintien du lien direct en tout temps sur le canal communautaire (ce qu’on appelle la baie de diffusion locale), le maintien des plages horaires intéressantes notamment aux heures de grande écoute et la primauté des programmations locales et d’accès sur la programmation extérieure à la zone de desserte autorisée telle que cette dernière avait été établie dans la licence existante au 10 octobre 2002.

L'Avis d'audience publique 2007-10 se penche sur des enjeux fondamentaux qui, dans le présent contexte d’une déréglementation encouragée par le gouvernement fédéral, pourraient déstructurer considérablement l’élément communautaire télévisuel au sein du système canadien de radiodiffusion. Ces enjeux sont : la création d'une classe unique de licence pour les câblodistributeurs, un accès plus simple à des clauses de dérogation au Règlement, le retrait possible de la distribution du canal communautaire au service de base des abonnés, des modifications importantes aux articles 27, 28, 29 et 35 du Règlement – des articles liés spécifiquement à l’exploitation des canaux communautaires -- et, tout aussi primordial, il y a le retrait possible de l'obligation de distribution en mode numérique et au service de base des stations de télévision de faible puissance axées sur la communauté et les entreprises numériques offertes aux abonnés de ces zones de desserte. Pour les TVC autonomes, les possibilités d’assouplissements proposées dans l’Avis d’audience publique CRTC 2007-10, si elles devaient se concrétiser, signifieraient une diminution de leur présence à l’écran et un tas d’autres incertitudes.

Dans l’éventualité de territoires de desserte beaucoup plus vastes qu’ils ne le sont actuellement, que restera-t-il de la prépondérance de la programmation locale et d’accès? Est-ce que les TVC autonomes auront leur mot à dire sur les plages horaires au regard de leur programmation? Pourquoi le CRTC questionne-t-il l’obligation qu’on les câblodistributeurs d’offrir le canal communautaire au service de base des abonnés? Est-ce que le canal communautaire serait voué à devenir un service facultatif? Que deviendront les modalités du financement de la programmation communautaire dans le cas d’une classe unique de licence et si le canal est offert sur une base facultative?

Le Cadre stratégique ouvrait aussi la porte à la possibilité d’obtenir des licences d’exploitation d’entreprises de programmation de télévision communautaire (faible puissance ou circuit numérique). Le CRTC a statué que les câblodistributeurs avaient l’obligation de distribuer le signal de ces stations en mode numérique et au service de base des abonnés. Ces possibilités de nouvelles licences représentent une alternative au canal communautaire. Il s’agit même du seul filet de sécurité valable à un canal communautaire qui ne répondrait plus aux besoins réels de programmation des communautés. C’est par l’obtention d’une licence de radiodiffusion que les TVC autonomes atteindront la véritable autonomie. Or, dans le présent processus de déréglementation, le CRTC se questionne sur la pertinence d’obliger les câblodistributeurs à distribuer les entreprises de programmation de télévision communautaire axées sur la communauté en mode numérique et au service de base. La Fédération s’oppose fermement à cette dernière éventualité. Une entreprise de programmation communautaire autorisée en vertu d’une licence doit jouir des mêmes privilèges que les stations de télévision locales privées ou publiques. À défaut de pouvoir être offerte au service analogique par certains câblodistributeurs, une entreprise de programmation de télévision communautaire autorisée doit alors bénéficier d’une distribution en mode numérique sur le service de base. Que deviendrait l’attrait de ces licences s’il n’y avait plus d’obligation de distribution au service de base des abonnés?

La phase 1 du processus mis de l’avant par l’Avis 2007-10 s’est terminée le 19 octobre dernier. La Fédération a déposé un important mémoire visant à défendre les règles d’exploitation actuelles du canal communautaire et a demandé aussi des assouplissements en matière de publicité. La phase 2 consiste en une période de réplique entre les intervenants de la première phase. Cette phase, qui avait comme date limite le 16 novembre, a eu une extension jusqu’au 25 janvier 2008. La raison de ce report repose sur l’ajout d’un élargissement du mandat de l’Avis 2007-10. Le CRTC accepte d’analyser à nouveau le financement de la télévision en direct. Ce report est toutefois salutaire pour la Fédération. En effet, l’analyse des interventions rédigées par les câblodistributeurs et autres parties intéressées demande beaucoup de temps. La préparation des argumentaires ayant pour but de s’opposer aux revendications des câblodistributeurs devient aussi plus complexe. La Fédération aura besoin de ce temps supplémentaire pour peaufiner sa seconde intervention.

Dans l’intervalle, les TVC autonomes seront contactées afin qu’elles soutiennent, par une résolution, l’intervention de la Fédération. Des rencontres politiques auront lieu avec des représentants des divers partis provinciaux et fédéraux afin qu’ils influencent le CRTC au regard du maintien du minimum de réglementation encore existante pour le développement de l’élément communautaire dûment identifié à l’intérieur de la Loi sur la radiodiffusion.

L’audience publique qui devait se tenir à partir du 4 février 2008, a elle aussi été reportée. La nouvelle date est le 7 avril 2008.

Cet Avis du CRTC est la preuve que jamais rien n’est acquis. Les quelques gains obtenus avec le Cadre stratégique pour les médias communautaires (2002) sont à nouveau menacés. La Fédération a besoin du soutien de l’ensemble de ses membres afin de contrer les velléités de déréglementation.

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Proposal for a National Public Access Channel

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 case for a national citizen-access channel (the same as a “community-access” channel, but not confined to a small geographic community) overlaps the case for a national professional association. Such a channel could:

a) show the “best” or most nationally relevant of programming produced at local community channels across the country. Programs could be shared from one local channel to another simply by copying them at air-time. This would have the effect of giving a wider platform to programs about nationally relevant issues as well as let people in different parts of the country to know what is going on elsewhere. Award-winning local programs could be shown on the national channel.

b) show programming sent directly to the channel by independent producers; for example, the more than 100 independent feature films that are produced in Canada each year, few of which find an airing, as well as documentaries or other program formats whose producers want a wider audience than they are able to find in the commercial and public sectors.

Noam Chomsky, in an interview I did with him 2 weeks ago, said that he didn’t think US public-access had achieved its full potential because of its localism. He said that individuals and groups with alternative agendas at the national level often don’t have the resources or stamina to try to produce programs on a city-by-city basis, but might if the platform were national. He gave the example of a Ralph Nader or Greenpeace. This is equally true in Canada. There should be a national platform for citizen debate of national issues, just as there always has been for local issues via the community channel. For example, all political parties, even the ones usually excluded from national debates on the CBC and private broadcasters like the Greens, could have air time.

c) disseminate resource and training information for the community TV sector; for example, discussions about programming formats, how to recruit and train volunteers, or new technologies.

d) educate the general public about community TV, so that in regions currently not served by a local channel, people could obtain information about how to go about establishing one

How would a national citizen-access channel be operated and funded?

Because it would be mostly programmed by submissions from individuals and local community TV channels across the country, the need for a production budget would be limited to channel branding, context-setting wraparounds, and the occasional targetted national program (such as a federal political debate). My vision is that non cable-BDUs that currently give their 5% levy entirely to the Canadian Television Fund would instead direct 2% to this national channel and organization. Shaw, Bell ExpressVu, and the Dunbar Leblanc report have already raised the idea of a national channel. It could be operated like CPAC, with the contributions of many BDUs but operated by an independent board of directors (the national professional association), and carried by all BDUs on the basic tier.

Because only a small amount of this 2% would be needed for new programming and packaging per se, the balance could be used to run the national association, including an endowment fund to support fledgling community TV channels in parts of the country that do not at their inception or might never have access to the local cable levy. (For example, low-power over-the-air community broadcasters currently have no right to the levy under 2002-61.)

This scheme would level the playing field for BDUs and expand the number of channels in the community tier in our broadcasting system to two, an expansion long overdue given the enormously increased bandwidth we have now compared to when community TV started in the 1970s. Both the public tier (represented by CBC’s various channels and affiliates, the provincial broadcasters and CPAC) and private tiers have expanded dramatically during the same time period.

It would also offer citizen-made and alternative programming to audiences in parts of the country where no community channel exists.

So what do you think? I feel our best defence in light of recent attempts to weaken the community tier (such as 2007-10’s suggestion that the community channel might no longer be offered as part of the basic tier) is a good offence. Rather than fighting to retain old privileges and prevent further erosion, let’s propose a dramatic new way to strengthen the community tier.

There is precedent worldwide… With the increase in bandwidth, both the idea of local citizen-run channels and national channels to share such programming has been spreading around the world:

● US public-access channels have been sharing programming via Free Speech TV and Deep Dish satellite for several years.

● Israel has a national community channel that is distributed alongside the local channel and which is used for the “best” or most nationally relevant of local shows

● Australia has a national Aborignal channel that shares programming made at local and regional channels

● The US reserves a percentage of bandwidth in each community, not just a single channel, for public access. In many cities, there may be 5, 6 or more local access channels used by individual citizens, educational institutions and local government.

● The UK has a national community channel that airs programs made by non-profit associations.

Please give us your comments on the on-line forum. If there were to be a chance to obatin a Category 1 CRTC license for such a channel and to win the 2% levy from non-cable BDUs, this idea will need broad national support from CACTUS members.

Catherine Edwards

The photo shows the author being interviewed recently on Israel's national community channel.

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Victory in Campbell River

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.

MOTION #1

That the letter from Shaw be received and filed with no action taken.

MOTION #2

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.

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Advertising on the Community Channel

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.

If you've read the interventions to 2007-10, you'll know that both the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec and many MPs and municipalites throughout Quebec intervened to ask for liberalization of the rules. I spoke to Gérald Gauthier at the Fédération this week and he confirmed that most of the letters from Quebec MPs and municipalities had been written at their request. He said that because many independent community TV organizations in Quebec have little or no access to the cable levy money, they need alternate sources of money to survive.

When I asked him whether he feared that more advertising would skew the mandate of the channels away from non-discriminatory access toward more commercial varieties of programming, he said that many of the autonomous channels receive money from the Quebec Ministry of Culture and this affords them two protections:

a) A steady base source of income. Advertising revenue is a supplement only, not a basic organizing principle for the channel, as it is in the private sector.

b) The Ministry of Culture provides funding only if the community TV organization is non-profit and meets stringent requirements as to its programming, including non-discriminatory access by members of the community.

He also claimed that in a recent survey done of community TV viewers in Quebec, that a majority said they liked seeing local advertising on the channel, because it made them more aware of businesses in their community.

My own fear that the CRTC may eliminate the 2-5% persists, and that liberalizing the advertising rules will just give it more excuse to do so.

My experience in travelling the world visiting community TV channels in Australia, Israel, South America, Europe, Nepal and the US tells me that community TV needs a steady source of non-commercial funding. These channels are funded from municipal tax dollars in Europe, by a combination of government and municipal funds in Israel, and by the cable industry in Nepal and the US. Where steady non-commercial sources of funds do not exist, trouble almost always ensues fulfilling the channel's access mandate. For example, in Australia and Brazil, the government gives licenses for community TV, but no funding. A couple of Australian channels survive on sponsorship, such as in Brisbane. About half the air-time when I visited was filled with harness racing, because the harness racing association was underwriting the channel's costs.

In Brazil and other parts of Australia, the "channel" is just a playback head-end, often no bigger than a closet, where groups in the community bring their tapes for playback. They have to find their own shooting and editing facilities, and the result is that they have no live interactive programming at all (since there is no studio), volunteers quickly burn out because documentary-style shoot-and-edit production is time-intensive to produce, and there is no cross-fertilization of ideas among producing groups, because each is isolated and there are no common production facilities. No sense of programming a single service on behalf of the community results. In Brazil, most of the programs are made by well-endowed organizations like churches and trade unions. Few opportunities for access by individuals exist.

The one exception to this trend that I discovered was in Peru, where an informal network of commercially funded community-access TV has sprung up on its own, due to several accidental environmental factors converging at once. The capital and financial centre of Peru is Lima. Lima is dominated by people of Spanish descent, and until the early 1990s, major national commercial TV networks had their headquarters in Lima and regional smaller offices scattered throughout the indigenous-dominated Andes. When Fujimori’s government fell, capital retreated to Lima and the major networks sold most of their small affiliates to local indigenous owners.

These new owners found themselves with small studios and equipment, but no money for local production. Throughout the Andes, these operators almost unanimously opened their doors to the community and invited them to make programming via a 50-50 profit-share. Any advertising that either the channel or the producer could find for a program is split evenly. Because the local people had always resented the dominance of Spanish programming and culture, the locals enthusiastically stepped up to the plate and began programming in their own languages, and showcasing their own dances, costumes and culture.

The Peruvian example is the exception to the rule, in my opinion, however. While it does demonstrate that where there is a strong desire for local expression that people will find a way to do it, it could only flourish when the airwaves had been voluntarily opened up and abandoned by retreating media giants. The economy of South America is also significantly less globalized than in Canada, meaning there was a much larger market of local businesses to take advantage of local advertising than in most small Canadian towns.

So, what do you think? Please join our forum and give us your 2 cents’ worth from your part of the country. If possible, we'd like to be able to evolve a common approach to this issue for future CRTC hearings.

Catherine Edwards

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Dead-line for CRTC 2007-10 Extended to January 25, 2008

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.

C. Edwards

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The Latest from Campbell River, Vancouver Island

The following letter was submitted by Campbell River, (Vancouver Island) Community TV Technical Foreman to the Campbell River local paper:

Dear readers;

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?

CRTV is a state of the art cable system. In fact, we are in somewhat better shape than most Shaw systems this size. Our last rebuild took us to 750Mhz with all coaxial actives and passives and to 860Mhz with all fiber actives. Many, many cable systems of various sizes in this country are still at 450 or 550 Mhz and not as ‘fiber rich’ as CRTV. The reason I mention this, is that bandwidth in cable terms is like real estate. The more bandwidth you have, the more services you can deliver. CRTV has the capacity now to deliver a lot of services. Speaking of fiber, we now have 11 (soon 12) nodes and within the next couple of years we will upgrade to fiber right into the neighbourhoods. With new technologies that have recently been perfected, we will be in a position to maximize the use of our existing fiber. We now serve all of SD72 with 100 Mbit internet through fiber as well as several government offices locally. Businesses in the future will request direct fiber connections for their high - speed connections and we will be in a position to provide that.

It’s obvious that CRTV has been upgrading constantly for the last several years. For example, we recently installed a new modem termination system which when fully integrated, will allow us to offer unbelievably high internet speeds as well as other services such as packet video. CRTV has just recently been awarded a license for video on demand, which will give our members access to an unprecedented selection of product. We are constantly adding more digital (over 150 channels) and HD product (20 channels) and judging by the response of our members, it is well accepted. Our technicians are equipped with state of the art network monitoring equipment and are striving to stay up to date with current technology. Our CSR’s in the front office do a great job providing great ‘one on one’ service to our members. They work hard as well, to keep up to date with new technologies to provide better service by being able to answer our member’s enquiries.

Yes, we will have to spend capital on a continuing basis, not only to keep up with competition as has been mentioned by others, but also to provide our members with a varied and increasingly reliable service. But in reality, we are no different than every other cable and telephone company in North America, regardless of size. Everyone will have to spend capital over the next several years to remain competitive. For us, this can be accomplished in a measured fashion with increased revenues resulting from growth and reasonable rate increases. It will be an ongoing process, but one that can be managed.

Sean Smith in the Friday Nov. 02 Mirror, brought up the possibility of Shaw overwiring CRTV. I would like to discuss this subject at length and outline the very serious challenges facing anyone wanting to overwire CRTV.

Firstly, when we hear of companies applying to overbuild systems, they are referring to areas with major population densities. They are looking at going into areas with thousands, to tens of thousand of residences per square mile. In order for Shaw to overwire CRTV from their starting point in Black Creek, they would have to build an enormous amount of plant through very low - density areas. CRTV stretches from Orange Point Road in the north to the end of Seaview Rd. in the south. Our plant was extended as the population areas expanded over a long period of time. If you had to build new plant today to cover that geographic area all at once, you would require very deep pockets. We don’t even have a densely populated downtown that they could reach to make the expenditure worthwhile.

Secondly, CRTV has the advantage of having it’s own aerial strand and underground duct system, something that is unique in BC and probably rare in Canada. Shaw, or any newcomer would have to go onto Telus aerial strand and pay ongoing route footage for that. They would also have to rent underground facilities from Telus or CRTV and pay route footage for that privilege as well.

And last, but most significantly, CRTV has a major advantage in that we already have the subscribers. It’s generally understood that whoever comes along, would have to take those subscribers away in large enough numbers to pay for the capital expenditure in a reasonable number of years. At this point, Shaw has very little to offer in terms of product that CRTV does not have. But more significantly, they are not competitive at all price - wise. They could lower their prices to be more competitive, but there are a couple of problems with that:
1) They could not generate adequate revenue to pay off their huge capital expenditure in a reasonable amount of time.
2) Folks in the Comox Valley and elsewhere would not be too happy to learn that they are paying more for the same services as their Shaw brethren in Campbell River.

I’m not saying that they wouldn’t overbuild. Rather, I’m just pointing out that there is no business case for it. Yes, they could probably overbuild for less than $3000 per subscriber passed. The question is, would they be successful in taking enough subs to justify the expense?

In short, I would like you to take some comfort in the knowledge that CRTV is a very good cable system with potential for growth. We can compete and continue to provide great services at competitive cost to the citizens of Campbell River for many years to come.

Thank you for your time.

Joseph A. Bruneau
CRTV Tech. Foreman

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Winnipeg Free Press Article #2 re. Bumping Community TV Off Basic Cable Tier

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).

By comparison, the community tier in many other countries is not a single channel. In the US, a percentage of bandwidth (often 5 or 6 channels) is set aside for community use, showing programming made not just by private citizens but by municipal governments, universities and schools, resulting in access to a rich educational local mix. In Australia, Israel, and the UK, there are national public-access channels in addition to local community channels, which play the best and most nationally relevant of the alternative voices that make their way onto community channels.

So what can we do? The CRTC proposal is not yet policy. The Commission is asking for public feedback by October 9th. Telling the CRTC what you think is as simple as accessing http://www.crtc.gc.ca/archive/ENG/Hearings/2007/n2007-10.htm, scrolling to the end, filling out an automatic feedback form, and clicking “Send”. If you want to read the document in full (which deals with carriage rules for all channels, not just the community channel), the key paragraph is 73. If you used to participate in production at or watch Winnipeg’s community channel, tell the Commissioners what value it has had to you or community groups to which you belong. Ask that the channel be reopened for access by the community, and that it remain in the basic cable package.

Catherine Edwards

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Winnipeg Free Press Article #1 re. Status of Community TV

This article appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press in September. Winnipeg had one of the most active and avant-garde community programming in the country at its height.

"Channel 9 : Take Back the Airwaves!"

Do you remember Wayne’s World? How about the original Tom Green Show? Do you remember when you could tune in to VPW 13 and see interactive programs made by volunteers… shows that recruited cult followings in their time, like Math with Marty, What’s New Pussycat? or the Pollack and Pollack Gossip Show?

If your memory is hazy, it’s because those days are gone. In 1997, the CRTC stopped mandating community access to “community TV channels”. The response by most cable companies, including Shaw, was to kick the public off its channels, and see whether they could be turned to a competitive advantage. Shaw hired professional reporters and came up with their now-familiar newswheel, with a weather strip along the bottom and the same one hour of local news repeated all day. Before the format change, Videon and Shaw aired more than 30 hours a week of volunteer-produced local programming in every imaginable genre, including kids’ shows, pet shows, multicultural shows, music shows (Alternative Rockstand, The Cosmopolitans), sports, variety, and even drama, often showcasing works from the Winnipeg Film Group (Survival, Apocalypse Now).

The other thing that has changed about so-called “community TV” is the ads. Prior to 1997, you could sponsor a program and the community channel and your sponsorship could be acknowledged with a verbal thank you or text credit. You couldn’t show moving video. If you’ve watched channel 10 lately, you’ll know it’s rife with ads and product placement, making it indistinguishable from commercial TV.

So what was the deal with public access to the community channel before 1997? How come you could call the cable company back then and make your own program and now you can’t? Ever since cable was introduced to Canada in the 1970s, the cable industry has been considered a license to print money. All you had to do was lay down cable and retransmit channels (mostly American) and charge for it. You assumed none of the risks of program production. Not only that, your license was a monopoly, since cities couldn’t have multiple cable companies ripping up the streets in response to service calls. So, to ensure that cable companies “gave something back” to their communities to a) balance the flood of foreign programming to Canadian homes and b) compensate cities for their use of public rights of way and of the public airwaves, the CRTC used to require cable companies to spend 5% of their gross revenues on a local channel that would be programmed by members of the community… a soapbox forum for freedom of speech on the most dominant medium of our times: television. Canada led the world in media literacy training and thinking, and this model was copied in the United States, Europe, Israel and Australia….and is still spreading, now into the developing world. The idea that democracies can only call themselves such if the average person can express themselves on mass media has been enshrined in the famous 2003 Geneva Declaration of Principles for the Information Society (http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs/geneva/official/dop.html).

So what happened in 1997? Telephone and satellite companies entered the market, cable companies were gobbling one another up (there are just 3 big cable companies left in Canada, where once there were over 50) and the CRTC lost control. By 2002, because of public outcry about cable company takeover of what had previously been true community-access channels, the CRTC reinstated its requirement that the cable operator should provide training to the public, and that at least 30-50% of the programming ought to be produced by people in the community. Few of the old volunteer contributors to the channel are aware of the regulations now, however, and Shawalthough they are required by CRTC directive 2002-61 to advise the public of their rights and to invite them to make program proposals in their billing inserts at least once a yearhas been blithely ignoring the regulations. (In a recent interview, Alex Park, Shaw’s VP or Programming,said that Shaw is meeting the requirement to provide “access” to the community by sending professional reporters out to cover your event. Er…not exactly freedom of speech or the “high level of citizen participationand expression” envisioned in the regulations, and nothing to distinguish them as a license-holder from any private broadcaster…) Shaw’s disdain of production by the community was perhaps most evident in their recent decision to throw out their entire pre-1997 archives, a priceless record of Winnipeg cultural and social history.

So what can you do? Do you have an idea for a program? You can call the program manager, Allan Sayegh at 480-3408 and ask for training, facilities and assistance to produce it. If you don’t get anywhere on a first visit, you can download and print policy 2002-61 from the CRTC web site at www.crtc.gc.ca, go back for a second visit and poke your finger at the regulation. Failing that, you can lodge a complaint with the Winnipeg CRTC office at 983-6306. (In the old days, the Canadian Cable Television Association used to field such complaints, but since its dissolution, consumers have no recourse but to go directly to the CRTC.) Failing that, if enough complaints are received by the CRTC about a given cable operator’s “community channel”, 2002-61 introduced the radical idea that an alternative group within the community could apply to operate the channel and receive the cable levy in the cable company’s stead (which amounts to several hundered thousand dollars a year in a market the size of Winnipeg). A successful challenge under the new policy has not yet been won in Canada (two concerned organizations are currently making the attempt), but it’s food for thought. Perhaps it’s time for an outside organization that could truly represent grassroots voiceslike Video Poolto be given the chance.

Catherine Edwards

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Community TV in Campbell River B.C. Under Threat

Larry Widen of Campbell River, Vancouver Island, submitted this letter to his local paper. It concerns an offer by Shaw (delivered in the form of a letter to every homeowner) to buy the co-op-owned cable system for $3,000 per person. Read on...

THE CRTV QUESTION ~ IT’S ABOUT COMMUNITY PRIDE

I cannot remember the year but it was, I think, in the early 1970s that I had the privilege of serving as the president of CRTV. I am proud that during my term as president the extremely rigid provisions that must be met to sell CRTV were written into the bylaws. I mention this to make it clear that I have a personal and sentimental bias in my arguments that CRTV should remain a community owned and operated enterprise.

To support my argument for continuing with a community owned CRTV it is necessary to take an all too brief and incomplete look at the community spirit that is Campbell River.

· Some fifty years ago a small group set out on an impossible dream to bring cable TV to Campbell River at a time when no private enterprise had any interest in doing so as there was no profit to be made.

· A need for a public boat ramp in Campbell River resulted in a small group doing the organizing, fund-raising and getting the authorization and producing a public boat ramp on the spit.

· Jack Caldwell, the first lawyer to set up a practice in Campbell River, and others worked long and hard to realise their objective of our own hospital for Campbell River.

· In the 50s I recall meeting a chap named Ed Meade who was promoting the establishment of a museum in Campbell River. Today we have a wonderful museum that is second to none.

· Campbell River’s Maritime Center is a tremendous project that has now to be given national status.

· The Rotary Club’s sea walk is a prominent example of what the many Campbell River service clubs have accomplished.

· All one needs to do is look around Campbell River to create an almost endless list of quality community projects that have been produced.

All of the above projects, listed or not listed, were made possible with the hard work by dedicated residents and only with the support of Campbell River’s strong community pride and spirit.

The public boat ramp on the spit has recently been torn up without any consultation with those who promoted and built it. Indeed some were out in their boats only to return to find the boat ramp gone. Community pride and spirit were betrayed in this case. Perhaps, even now, a new public boat ramp could still be included into the new waterfront park on the Spit.

Our very own fully functioning hospital is under threat by the imposition of a so-called regional hospital. If the regional hospital model is adopted our Campbell River Hospital will certainly cease to exist, if not immediately then over time due to the cash flow demands of a large regional hospital. Only the residents of Campbell River coming together with their strong community spirit can now save our community hospital.

Let us not allow the fate of CRTV to follow the fate of the public boat ramp or the possible fate of Campbell River’s own hospital. Has Campbell River lost the once strong city pride and community spirit to be able to maintain and improve on our collective community achievements of the past?

There is most certainly the temptation of a one time cash payment from the sale of CRTV in competition with the choice of embarking on a project to upgrade CRTV to a full range of services for members at a cost and quality extremely competitive in the cable market place.

The major companies know that a full service cable system in Campbell River will produce good corporate profits. True, the major cable companies have many advantages due to their ownership in industry related companies including TV signal providers. Notwithstanding the major companies’ advantages Sandy and I are more than prepared to forgo a one-time cash payment to maintain our locally owned and controlled CRTV. If Shaw or Rogers can do it with a profit we can do it at cost.

During my term as president of CRTV in addition to being assigned the task of drafting the revised bylaws I was also assigned the task of building a cable broadcasting studio and putting Campbell River Cable 10 into the home of every subscriber. With the technical advice of Ed Selby, the head technician at the time, co-operation from the staff union, community support, the hiring of a programming coordinator and volunteers to operate the studio and do the programming CRTV channel 10 made it onto the cable. With local ownership and control cable 10 has continued to enhance our community pride and spirit and must be protected. Our current community programming is by any comparison exceptional. This experience of course adds to my personal and sentimental bias in this matter.

I commend the current board of directors and management for commissioning the report that provides a course of actions required to maintain CRTV as a publicly owned cable system for Campbell River and area. I support starting to do all the technical upgrades recommended at the earliest possible date. Notwithstanding the report’s other option to sell and Shaw’s current offer to purchase CRTV and even considering my personal bias in this matter I still sincerely believe that CRTV can and should be saved.

It is very important to maintain CRTV if we are to maintain our community spirit for we cannot lose one without doing severe damage to the other. The CRTV board of directors has properly placed the challenge before us as the owners. I am certain that this community can rise to the challenge, save and enhance CRTV as well as our community pride and spirit.

I support Campbell River over Shaw, Rogers or any other cable company.

Larry Widen

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