Over $1 Billion Squandered as Cable Companies Fail to Meet Regulatory Requirements for Community Programming

Ottawa (January 3, 2012) In the summer of 2011, the CRTC initiated the most comprehensive audit of cable community channels ever undertaken. Shaw, Rogers, Cogeco, Videotron and Eastlink were asked to submit logs showing how much local programming they air, and how much is made by cable company staff versus volunteers who live in the community. Most cable companies failed to meet minimum criteria for local programming (60% of the program schedule) and the requirement that 30% of the programming be produced by community members.

“The time is long overdue for Canada to join other democracies and empower its citizens to administer their own community media. Communities desperately need outlets for local expression and they are currently paying more than $130 million annually for services they don’t receive.” says Catherine Edwards of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS).

“These channels are meant to provide a local platform for free speech, debate, and cultural expression. For over a decade, they’ve been predominantly programmed by cable company staff, not the communities they were meant to serve. Cable operators ignore regulatory requirements for community-access and local programming in favour of regional programming, and more than 80% of the nearly 300 community-access facilities that Canadians once enjoyed have been shut,” she continued.

In New Westminster, residents saw no local programming during the audit period. Resident and community activist Deepak Sahasrabuhde has been outraged by this situation. “This is unfair to cable subscribers. We pay about $1 on each $50 cable bill for these channels. Our community has no influence on program content as envisioned in the CRTC Regulations.”

Rural communities that used to rely on community channels as their only source of local media have been hardest hit, many of which don’t have broadband either. “If the money collected in communities were administered by those communities, it could be invested in digital skills training centres. Canadians could access new media tools on all platforms—not just cable: over the air, satellite, the Internet, and mobile devices,” said Edwards. Steve Anderson, Executive Director of open Internet advocacy organization OpenMedia.ca agreed. “Canadians are tired of big cable's underhanded tactics. Using public money to support their own programming is a betrayal of the trust government has placed in them. It's time we redirected these funds to local media innovation and access.”

CACTUS’ analysis of the cable logs can be found at http://www.cactusmedia.ca/.

A CRTC-commissioned study is also posted on the CACTUS web site at http://www.cactusmedia.ca/files/cactus/Community TV Policies and Practices Around the World22.doc that surveys community media policy and practice in 28 countries worldwide. Canada is alone in placing stewardship of community media in the hands of private, for-profit companies.

Contact: Catherine Edwards (819) 772-2862