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CACTUS Proposal to Revitalize Community TV in Canada as Part of Multimedia Digital Vision

CACTUS made a detailed submission to the CRTC's review of local and community TV on Tuesday, January 5th.

After consulting with its members, researchers, and community media practitioners from all media at the Community Media Convergence in November (radio, online, and gaming groups as well as traditional community TV), CACTUS filed an updated version of the proposal it made first in 2010: to use funding collected from Canadian subscribers from cable, IPTV, and satellite subscribers for "local expression" to fund multimedia training, production, and distribution centres that would bring back meaningful access to broadcasting and content creation to more than 90% of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

CACTUS' spokesperson Catherine Edwards: "We're satisfied that this idea has had a chance to circulate among community media practitioners beyond our own members. We've consulted public libraries, community radio stations, former CAP sites, community online media, First Nations groups, and the gaming community. Everyone agrees: stable operational funding needs to be found to support community media in the digital environment. Community TV (audio-visual content however distributed) in particular has been neglected for more than a decade, and the upcoming CRTC hearings are a chance to rectify this situation. Furthermore, the proposal takes into account the growing role of new media, and how best to make sure Canadians have the access to skills training, equipment and production support that they need to participate in the digital economy and in the wider culture we share on digital platforms."

To read CACTUS' intervention, click the files below:


Community Media Convergence Ramps Up to Welcome Visitors to Ottawa

CACTUS is helping to organize and host the Community Media Convergenge at Carleton Univeristy which kicks off next weekend. The following article is cross-posted from the web site of the conference at www.ComMediaConverge.ca:

(Ottawa) Nov. 11, 2015 With less than two weeks to go, things are heating up in the community media world, with the first ever gathering of community media practitioners from all sectors (community TV, community radio, community online media such as The Media Co-op and gamers) at Carleton University Nov. 22-24th.

The conference features two days of panels about everything from “Social Media: Is it Community Media and How Do We Leverage It?” to “Community Media 3.0: Games and Interactivity?” The third day is a policy development forum, where attendees will have the opportunity to help shape a policy proposal to support community media in the digital environment.

Speakers include grandfathers of our broadcasting system such as:

Clifford Lincoln, author of Our Cultural Sovereignty: The Second Century of Broadcasting
Florian Sauvageau, author of the 1986 Report on the Task Force on Broadcasting
... to the new generation of bloggers and podcasters, including Mark Blevis, Victoria Fenner of rabble.
... and gaming organizations such as Dames Making Games and the Hand Eye Society.
Conference goers will be able to check out the latest from technology companies in the Tech Fair and watch the best community media the country has to offer in the evening Media Festival.

The conference is timely, and organizers hope it will help inform the CRTC's on-going review of its community TV policy, which is 40 years old and lags behind the reality of the digital distribution and creation of content.

For more information, contact Jess Wind at (613) 883-0698 or Jess@ComMediaConverge.ca. Student and single-day pricing is available. The evening Media Festival is by donation. If you can't be part of the action in Ottawa, follow the stream at www.ComMediaConverge.ca.


ComMedia 2015 Invites CRTC to Community Media Conference

CACTUS alerted the CRTC to the fact that it was planning to organize the first national digital community media conference in the fall of 2014, with the hopes that both CRTC staff and commissioners would be able to attend, contribute to panels, and get to know the frequently overlooked sector of the broadcasting system that they regulate.

It was on the CRTC's three-year work plan that it would review community TV policy, and CACTUS' intent in liaising with the CRTC as soon as it had 'hatched' the idea for the conference was to make sure that all parties could maximally benefit from the research, best practices, and policy alternatives that might arise from this first coast-to-coast meeting of community media practitioners on all platforms.

In February of 2015, the CRTC announced following its recently completed "Let's Talk TV" process that it would shortly review community TV policy in the broader context of its policies for local conventional television.

Concerned, CACTUS requested a meeting with CRTC staff to:

  • renew our invitation to participate in the community media conference
  • discuss the timing of the proposed review
  • express our concern that the needs of the community TV sector might be sidelined in favour of the needs of larger interests and owners of conventional broadcasting networks.

When the CRTC met with CACTUS in late May, CACTUS learned that the community TV policy review notice might be posted before the end of summer, possibly precluding CRTC staff and Commissioners from participating, and precluding any of the research, practitioner knowledge and experience from shaping the CRTC's understanding of the sector and the policy review framework.

CACTUS therefore submitted the following formal request to delay a community TV policy review until after the conference, allowing the CRTC to participate fully, in a collegial fashion with media researchers and practitioners.

CACTUS request to delay hearing until after community media conference.

Since this letter was sent, several other conference organizers, research collaborators, sponsors, and concerned citizens have echoed CACTUS' request that the CRTC give its full support to the conference, and not squander the unprecedented opportunity to renew our country's commitment to and understanding of community media in the digital environment. You can read some of their letters below.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).
Clifford Lincoln
La Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec
The Canadian Media Guild
David Skinner, York University
Deepak Sahasrabuhde, Manager, Newwest.tv
Dr. Michael Lithgow, University of McGill.
Kirsten Kozolanka, Carleton University
Community Media Education Society
Professor Robert Hackett, Simon Fraser University

If you would like to encourage the CRTC to participate in and support the conference, you can either fax your comments to (819) 994-0218, or use the comments form on the CRTC web site. If you use the comment form, you can either type directly into the box on the form, or upload a separate document (for example, a letter on organizational letterhead).

Your voice is important to ensure that there are as many stakeholders at the table for this historic pan-media meeting, policy-makers especially!


CACTUS Presents "Community Media in Canada" Workshop at IAMCR, Montreal

CACTUS presented an hour-and-a-half long workshop entiteld "The State of the Nation: Community Media in Canada" at this week's International Association of Media and Communications Research conference, held for the first time in Montreal, at UQAM (the University of Quebec at Montreal). This is a yearly conference that attracts researchers from around the world. The conference has a "Community Communications" section. The IAMCR is a project of UNESCO.

The intent of the presentation was to provide international attendees with an overview of community media in their host country. The session was attended by researchers from Canada, England, Ireland, France, and Columbia. A lot of discussion ensued about digital standards and the impact that gaming is having on traditional media.

CACTUS will also present a 12-minute 'highlights' talk at a second session on Wednesday, July 15th.

The presentation was developed with input from David Murphy, Darryl Richardson and Barry Rooke regarding community gaming applications, community online media, and community radio, respectively.


CACTUS and Carleton University Partner to Host First National Community Media Conference

The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations and Carleton University will host the first national digital community media conference November 22-24 in Ottawa.

CACTUS' plans to host a professional and policy development conference to bring together community TV, radio, online and gaming pracitioners with the general public, researchers and policy-makers was first announced at the People's Social Forum in Ottawa in 2014. Since then, plans have progressed apace. Researcher Kirsten Kozolanka of the School of Journalism and Communications at Carleton University agreed to partner with CACTUS in order that the conference could be held centrally in Ottawa, easily accessible to government agencies whose policies affect community media, including the CRTC, Canadian Heritage, and Industry Canada.

The goals of the conference include exploring:

  • best practices in the digital environment, ways in which the divisions between traditional community media such as community TV and radio are breaking down, and the need for new strategies to serve communities online. Also to be explored is the way in which youth and new demographics are increasingly developing media literacy skills through gaming.
  • new policy directions needed to support community media in the multiplatform environment.

Thanks to a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) the conference will be maximally accessible for researchers and practitioners to attend from all parts of the country.

Catherine Edwards, CACTUS' spokesperson commented, "Thanks to the support of sponsors including our member channels, the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Communications Workers of America - Canada, the Canadian Media Producers Association, ACTRA, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, SmartChange, rabble.ca, IMAA, the Federation des television communautaire autonomes du Quebec and SSHRC, we will be able to offer travel and accommodation support for presenters. We're really delighted. This is a pivotal time for community media, and we need all heads at the table to come up with new directions in practice and policy."

The intent of the conference is to allow a broad forum for exploration prior to the CRTC's plans to review its 2010 community television policy.


CACTUS Submits Comments to Industry Canada 600 MgHz Spectrum Auction Consultation

February 15th was the dead-line to submit comments to Industry Canada regarding its proposal to align its television spectrum usage plans with those of the US.

At issue is the US' plans to offer financial compensation to US television broadcasters to vacate channels between the low 30s and 58 to make way for data-rich mobile applications (aka video distribution via cellular technology). Industry Canada was seeking comment from Canadians regarding how closely Canada should align its own spectrum usage with those of the US.

The proposed spectrum auction will follow closely on the heels of last year's auction of the 700 MgHz band, in which former TV channels above 60 were auctioned off for use by wireless providers.

In its submission to Industry Canada, CACTUS prioritized:

  • maintaining access to bandwidth by local authorities, and not allowing it all to be auctioned for private use.
  • over-the-air broadcasting, because of the local control over content that over-the-air towers offer communities
  • creating incentives for broadcasters to multiplex using digital technologies, to ensure that bandwidth is used efficiently, and there are always available over-the-air frequencies for new television services to use, including community television services
  • community broadcasters as generators of unique local and Canadian content
  • compensating broadcasters for the cost of moving to a lower channel assignment from the auction (i.e. incoming wireless providers should compensate outgoing TV broadcasters)
  • using some of the proceeds of the spectrum auction to develop digital literacy at the community level

You can read CACTUS' full submission here.


CACTUS Reaches Out to Public Libraries at Ontario Library Association Superconference

CACTUS offered at workshop at the Ontario Library Assocation superconference in Toronto in January, as part of the work it is doing under a Trillium Foundation grant to reach out to communities around Ontario about opportunities to improve community communication infrastructure using digital technologies.

Representatives from approximately 30 public libraries attended the three-hour workshop, which gave the libraries a crash course in community TV history, the void in media literacy training in Canada that has opened up since the collapse of the old cable community channel system, and opportunities for libraries.

For their part, public libraries across Canada have been re-examining their roles in the digital environment. Many, realizing that it's not just about books anymore, have been exploring 'maker spaces' to bring families and clients back to libraries. Since the 1990s, libraries have hosted CAP sites or "Community-Access Portals" to enable broadband Internet access, but many are taking their roles one step farther. In addition to supplying passive resources such as Internet workstations, maker spaces within libraries are seeking to catalyze a range of creative activites from puppet-making, to hack labs in which youth learn computer coding and game-making, to audio-visual production and 3D printing.

CACTUS sees an obvious overlap between the traditional media literacy mandate of community TV channels and public libraries. Says spokesperson, Cathy Edwards, "Libraries are already in communities, and they're there for the long term. They're seen as honest brokers, welcoming to all, and in the business of preserving the community's audio-visual record. They're natural hosts for community media centres. It's a role that can revitalize their mandate within the municipality."

More than half the libraries that attended the workshop are already facilitating audio-visual production within their communities, and streaming content. Examples include Schreiber Public Library and Sioulx Lookout. "We look forward to helping these libraries build on these foundations, and help bring back the capacity at the community level to generate meaningful and locally reflective televisual content."


Quebec: Plan Culturel Numérique--$750,000 for Quebec Community Channels to Upgrade to Digital

In March, the Quebec government released its "Plan Cultural Numérique" (Digital Cultural Plan).

In it is a provision of $750,000 to be shared among Quebec's not-for-profit community television corporations to spend on technological upgrades so that equipment is digital and HD, and to enable digital archiving of content.

For more information, details about the plan (in French) can be found here:

Quebec Government Press Release Concerning Aid to Quebec Community TV Channels

Plan Culturel Numerique

Unfortunately, community-owned and -operated television channels outside Quebec receive no financial assistance from any government or industry body. Most still broadcast in SD and have limited resources for archiving their content.

Meanwhile, many cable community channels have jettisoned decades worth of analog audio-visual content documenting every aspect of life in their host communities, because it has no long-term commercial value to them.


The CRTC's "Let's Talk TV" Conversation with Canadians: Phase III

Phase III of the CRTC's "Let's Talk TV" consultation (CRTC 2014-190) generated almost 3000 comments by individual Canadians as well as industry groups and stakeholders. The CRTC's questions in phase III raised the possibility that the current 2% revenue allocation by cable companies to community channels might be adjusted, as well as that free over-the-air distribution by local television stations (community, public, or private) might not be required in future.

The oral part of the CRTC hearing will be held in September. CACTUS is slated to appear on Wednesday, September 17th.

Click here to read CACTUS' written submission to phase III of "Let's Talk TV":

CACTUS Submission to CRTC 2014-190.

The full list of public submissions can be found here:

Submissions to CRTC 2014-190.


CACTUS Offers Workshop at People's Social Forum Aug. 22

CACTUS will be offering a workshop entitled "Reclaiming Our Community TV Channels" at the Peoples’ Social Forum (PSF) in Ottawa on Friday August 22nd. CACTUS has also been invited to participate in a panel hosted by rabble.ca about how independent media can be used to support social movements, and by Communicatons Workers of America (Canada) about funding models for alternative media.

In case you haven't heard of the PSF, its web site describes it as "a critical public space aimed at fostering activist involvement of individuals and civil society organizations that want to transform Canada as it exists today. It is a space for social movements to meet and converge, for the free expression of alternative ideas and grassroots exchanges. Social justice, Original Peoples rights, sustainable development, international solidarity and participatory democracy are at the centre of its concerns." Ten thousand people are expected to participate and the keynote address will be given by Naomi Klein.

CACTUS hopes to both network with other community and alternative media, but also with environmental, First Nations, and social justice organizations about how community media can help them get their messages out.

For more information about the PSF, see:

People's Social Forum 2014.

Attendees are being billetted with Ottawa residents.

Entry for the whole forum is only $20.

CACTUS' workshop will be offered from 1 - 2:30 p.m. on Friday.

The rabble.ca panel, which will be moderated by Judy Rebick and in which CACTUS is taking part, will be offered immediately following at 2:45 p.m. (more information here):

Rabble.ca-hosted "Media and the Movements"

The CWA panel regarding community media funding will be immediately following the rabble.ca panel at 4:30.

For the Alternative Media Assembly being held on Saturday, August 23rd, CACTUS has made a proposal that we hope other groups will endorse and help us develop: to develop an updated policy for community media in Canada, that reflects the realities of digital production and distribution.


Television Providers Petition CRTC to Offer Community Channels Divided by Language

Prior to 2006, there was only ever one 'community channel' in a given neighbourhood. In 2006, Rogers petitioned the CRTC to divide its Ottawa community channels along linguistic lines. Other cable and satellite TV providers have been following Rogers' lead lately, a worry trend that takes Canadian 'community TV' ever further from its roots and more and more a copy of what's already available on commercial local TV.

But why?

The CRTC expects cable and satellite television service providers to spend 5% of their revenues on Canadian production. If they elect to offer a 'community channel' in a given licence area, they are allowed to retain between 1.5 and 2% of the 5% for the operation of the channel. The remainder flows to the Canada Media and other production funds that support professional production nationally.

Almost all cable and satellite companies have elected to operate a community channel given this choice, because it gives them some control over how a portion of their contribution to Canadian production is spent, and enables them to leverage local branding and advertising.

In 2006, Rogers proposed to the CRTC to offer two community channels in Ottawa: one programmed exclusively in French and the other in English. Prior to that time, there had always been two community channels in Ottawa, one in the east and one in the west, because the city had been divided into two cable service areas. However, anglophones and francophone volunteers and community producers were welcome at both facilities, and each aired a mix of content, depending on the programs being made at any given time. There was usually more anglophone programming produced from the western studio location on Richmond Rd. (one-time Ottawa Cablevision, and then Maclean Hunter) and more francophone programming produced in the east of town (the one-time Skyline channel), reflective of where most anglophones and francophones lived. Each facility was supported with 2% of the revenues collected from cable subscribers in that half of town.

Anglophones and francophones, as well as other minority and special interest groups mingled at both facilities, cross-fertilizing one another's ideas and contributing to a vibrant mix of programming that reflected the neighbourhoods where they lived.

Rogers' proposal to the CRTC was that it could better serve anglophones and francophones if it were allowed to retain 4% of the revenues collected in the whole city for community programming, of which 2% would support an anglophone community channel headquartered in West Ottawa, and 2% would support a francophone community channel headquartered in East Ottawa.

The CRTC accepted Rogers' argument. When the CRTC's community TV policy was reviewed in 2010, Rogers' one-time special case was made a permananet part of policy, paving the way for other broadcast distribution undertakings (or BDUs, which include cable, satellite, and other TV service delivery companies) to apply to the CRTC to be allowed to do the same thing. In the fall of 2013, Bell petitioned the CRTC to be allowed to retain 4% of its revenues in Ottawa and Montreal in order to offer two separate community channels. In the fall of 2013, Videotron petitioned the CRTC to be allowed to retain 4% of its revenues in Montreal (one of the largest licence areas in Canada) in order to operate two separate community channels. In January, Rogers petitioned the CRTC to be allowed to retain 4% of its revenues in Fredericton and Saint John in order to offer two separate linguistically divided community channels in those cities.

Aside from the flawed principale of separating communities on community media--when the point of having community media is to bring them together (not to mention third-language groups... where do they go?) --CACTUS has also intervened in each of these proceedings to point out that these companies' rationale for needing double the money to operate two community channels doesn't hold water.

In the private system, yes. If you wanted to program two channels in two different languages, you might need double the money, particularly if you produced the programming from two separate programming facilities. (In each of the instances noted above, the company in question has not proposed to create a second programming facility, only to offer additional programming in the second language from the same production facility.) However, under a community model, it is the volunteers who produce the programming, not staff. If you have a budget of a million dollars to train and support a population of say 1 million people to make programming, it doesn't cost more if 500,000 of those people happen to be English, and 500,000 happen to be French. It's still the same total number of people you need to train and assist during the production process. You just need to hire bilingual staff, which isn't hard in the bilingual cities where BDUs have felt there is a case to offer two community channels.

The fact that the BDUs can make these arguments and the CRTC accepts them over and over is discouraging, because it underscores the fact that not only do the BDUs really have no concept of what community media is about (or perhaps more fairly, they've lost it over the last 15 years), but the CRTC doesn't seem to either.

If you're interested to read CACTUS interventions against these divided community channels, click the links below. If you live in the communities affected by these applications, we encourage you to contact your regional CRTC Commissioner to voice your concerns.

Bell's Application to Retain 4% of Revenues for Dual Community Channels in Ottawa and Montreal.

CRTC Commissioner for Ontario: Raj Shoan (416) 954-6269
CRTC Commissioner for Quebec: vacant 514-283-6607

Videotron's Application to Retain 4% of Revenues for Dual Community Channels in Montreal.

CRTC Commissioner for Quebec: vacant 514-283-6607

Roger's Application to Retain 4% of Revenues for Dual Community Channels in Fredericton and Saint John.

CRTC Commissioner for the Atlantic: Elizabeth A. Duncan
(902) 426-2644


US Ruling Threatens Community Media

A US appeals court has thrown out the concept of net neutrality, which had heretofore ensured that different kinds of Internet traffic are given equal access to bandwidth, and had prevented Internet providers from charging different rates to different kinds of traffic.

The US ruling sets a dangerous precedent that could threaten the long-term health of community media, as more and more people acquire information and entertainment on-line.

Click here for the full Wall Street Journal article.

People often ask, "Why do you need community TV channels anymore with the Interent? You've got YouTube."

There are lots of answers to this question:

  • You have to give up your copyright on many services such as YouTube, and they are being more and more commercialized. The community doesn't own or control them.
  • YouTube doesn't aggregate local audiences, and isn't live.
  • YouTube doesn't provide training and media literacy skills and equipment access for people who are not already media-savvy.
  • YouTube doesn't provide meeting places in the community for people to make media together and debate the issues that are important to them. YouTube doesn't facilitate the 'process' of community media, which is as if not more important than making the media content available to share with others afterwards.

The US ruling highlights another problem, however, which is that regardless of the platform of the day by which community media content is distributed, it will always need protection to make sure that it is accessible to everyone in the community. It may be a struggle for access to space on cable and satellite for community content today, but that struggle will just be repeated on new media platforms if Internet providers can privilege their own content and make community media expensive to download or block access completely.

Click here if you would like to sign a RootsAction.org petition to oppose the ruling.


Participate in CRTC's "Let's Talk TV" Conversation with Canadians

The CRTC is hosting a public consultation called "Let's Talk TV", to consult the general public about how it thinks the broadcasting system should evolve in the digital and multi-platform environment.

The consultation will have several stages. Before Christmas, it was very free form. Canadians were encouraged to post informal comments on the CRTC's web site, in response to questions in three categories, including programming content as well as technological access to services.

Groups and organizations were also encouraged to host "Flash Conferences" examining the same questions. These conferences could be informal get-togethers in people's houses, coffee shops, a townhall, a teleconference or web consultation. CACTUS held a "Flash Conference" in January. Our report can be found on the CRTC web site, along with the reports of other groups and organizations. (Click the link below, and then click "Flash Conference Reports" in the middle column where it says "Get Up to Speed on the Conversation.)

Flash Conference Reports

Here's what the CRTC's report on stage I had to say about community and local programming:

"Support for community programming also varies. Some call into question the relevance of community channels as well as the quality of the programming they broadcast and whether the Community channel has become nothing more than a promotional tool for BDUs. Others openly support their raison d’être as well as the support they give to volunteers and members of the community in terms of a professional environment to develop and produce their programming.In certain regions of Quebec (such as Trois-Rivières and Chandler) and Ontario (such as North Bay), the need for a strong and well-funded community channel providing locally reflective and relevant programming receives much support. This support comes from individuals, the creative community and other institutions such as parish churches. Some participants argue that local commercial network rebroadcasting transmitters provide little news or information relevant to their communities – a gap that is filled by community television. Others identify cultural, democratic and economic need for a strong community television sector."

The CRTC has now moved into stage 2. It is posing a specific series of questions asking you to make choices about price versus value. To complete the CRTC's "Let's Talk TV Choicebook", click here and complete the questionnaire by March 14th:

Let's Talk TV Choicebook

We encourage you to participate, especially if you missed the first round. It's important for community channel to be kept front and centre in the CRTC's agenda, as well as for thoughtful TV-viewing Canadians such as yourselves to weigh in on the full spectrum of questions regarding the future of our broadcasting system.

The CRTC says there will be an oral hearing in the fall of 2014.