CACTUS Endorses CRTC Call For Tougher Regulatory Tools

Ottawa (November 22, 2010) In both the recent renewal of Shaw’s 22 western cable licenses and in its appearance before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage last week, the CRTC called for changes to the CRTC Act that would enable it to fine broadcasting and telecommunications entities that violate regulations and conditions of licence.

The Shaw decision states, “The Commission is required to rely on sub-optimal regulatory tools to address non-compliance issues, resulting in less effective and more costly regulation, to the detriment of the broadcasting system and all Canadians.” In his presentation before the Standing Committee, CRTC Chairman Konrad von Finckenstein said, “We need the authority to impose administrative monetary penalties—AMPs... It would provide a timely corrective and deterrent for all players to see.”

The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) strongly supports the CRTC’s call for tougher regulatory tools. Catherine Edwards, spokesperson for CACTUS, said, “The community TV sector knows at first hand how difficult it is for the CRTC to take quick action when its only regulatory mechanism is to shorten licence terms. As the Chairman articulates, if a license term is five years or longer, the market can change completely or another cable company may take over before violations are addressed.”

CACTUS intervened at the license renewals for Shaw cable systems in September, calling for Shaw to reopen at least some of the 40 community-access studios that the company has closed across Western Canada since the late 1990s. “Once upon a time, the only public benefit that was examined at cable license renewals was the community channel,” said Edwards. “Now, cable companies have become such large players in funding Canadian content—through the Local Programming Initiative Fund, through value for signal payments, and through contributions to the Canadian Media and other funds—it’s nearly impossible for the Commission to enforce all licence expectations. At best, it may make a point of one or two.”

The renewal of Shaw’s cable licenses is a case in point. Despite evidence presented by CACTUS that the company has closed the majority of its community-access studios, the Commission took no action. “It’s disappointing that the Commission accepted Shaw’s contention that it could effectively serve these communities with mobile production units. That means a community might record one or two specials a year. With no visible and permanent presence in a community, how will residents know that they are entitled to training, equipment access, and studio time to make programming?”

The decision stated, “Though the use of mobile studio facilities is not ideal, where the size of a community does not make the establishment of a fixed studio facility viable, the Commission accepts the use of mobile studio facilities as a reasonable alternative.” Edwards commented, “We’re puzzled how it was ‘viable’ for Shaw to maintain over 50 studios throughout Western Canada in the 1990s, but it isn’t today. Since the deregulation of cable rates eight years ago, basic cable rates have increased at twice the rate of the consumer price index, or four times in the case of Shaw.”

Contacts: Catherine Edwards, CACTUS (819) 772-2862