Communities Have Until April 15th to Ask for Cable Company Budgets to Manage “CommunityTV"

Ottawa (March 22, 2016) Canadians have until April 15th to share their experiences as viewers and producers at cable community TV channels.

The vast majority of cable community TV channels do not meet the minimum criteria for operating a community TV channel under CRTC policy, according to Deepak Sahasrabudhe of Newwest.tv in BC, and a member of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS).

CACTUS and various community groups filed complaints of non-compliance with the CRTC's community TV policy against 75 cable community channels operated by Shaw, Rogers, Cogeco, Eastlink, and Videotron.

Catherine Edwards, spokesperson for CACTUS, said, “Deepak took it upon himself to examine the online programming schedules of cable license areas in Canada: all those that currently hold cable licenses from the CRTC, as well as many smaller systems that are exempt from licensing, but which are still expected to offer community TV services. He wanted to find out whether they air at least 60% local content and at least 50% 'access' content―created by ordinary community members, not cable company staff.”

Mr. Sahasrabudhe elaborated, “I discovered that New Westminster cable TV subscribers pay about $400,000 per year for community television services, yet Shaw airs almost nothing from New Westminster. Everything we see is piped out from downtown Vancouver. I wanted to find out whether the same situation is happening across Canada. Are subscribers getting the services they pay for? In Montreal, citizens have launched a class-action suit against Videotron for a failure to provide them with the community TV services they pay for.”

The CRTC recently held hearings to review its community TV policy and noted that “Consolidation within the distribution sector has led BDUs [broadcast distribution undertakings such as cable and satellite companies] to centralize their operations, including community channel production and administration, to realize cost efficiencies.”

Edwards commented, “It hasn't made sense for a long time for cable companies to offer community TV services. It's broken. It's a long time since they've had a presence in small communities. Communities need to take over.” At issue at the recent hearings was the fate of more than $150 million that is collected from cable subscribers from coast to coast every year to ensure that they have access to training and a platform for free speech in the broadcasting system. According to Mr. Sahasrabudhe's data (available online at www.comtv.org), most of the money has been used to support programs made by cable company staff, which have very low viewership according to Numeris: Only 1.5% of Canadians watch cable community channels in any given week, compared to more than 46% that watch genuine community-owned and -operated channels.

Community ownership of radio stations has also been a success story in Canada.

The complaints outstanding against Shaw, Rogers, Eastlink, Cogeco and Videotron ask the CRTC to redirect the money spent on community TV to communities themselves to manage. CACTUS believes the money could then be put to better use. Communities could operate multimedia training and production centres, that would teach and distribute traditional media such as TV and radio, but also new media including web design and gaming. Edwards elaborated “... whatever the community needs to know to function. It's a digital economy. You won't even be able to fill out your tax return soon if you don't have digital media skills. Ploughing all this money into a cable-only platform that fewer and fewer Canadians subscribe to makes no sense”.

Canadians can find out whether a complaint has been filed against the cable access channel in their community at http://www.comtv.org/all-canada-report. Canadians who would like to contribute their experiences of their local cable-access channel to the CRTC's review of these complaints are encouraged to call CACTUS at (604) 521-0200 or to e-mail deepak@somatv.ca.