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CACTUS Shares Implementation Plan for a Revitalized Community Sector with CRTC Staff

CACTUS member Cathy Edwards, Robin Jackson (the ex-executive director of the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund) and Patrick Watt met with CRTC officials on September 3rd to outline CACTUS' proposal to revitalize the community tier by creating a new community-access license class and an accompanying Community-Access Media Fund to support the new license holders. CRTC staff listened attentively and asked lots of questions. We hope that this information-sharing session will help shape the framework of the upcoming hearings by educating CRTC staffers about what the sector can accomplish if given the right tools.

Table of Contents

a) Status of Community-Access Programming in Canada

b) CACTUS Position in Upcoming Policy Review

c) Action Plan if a New Community-Access Media Fund is Created

a) Status of Community-Access Programming in Canada

In the 1980s and 1990s, there were over 300 community-access television channels across Canada, by which the Canadian public (both individuals and groups) had direct access to the airwaves. Most were operated and/or distributed by cable companies. Since the cable industry enjoyed 80% penetration at that time, community TV was “accessible” to most Canadians both as producers and viewers. A few community channels operated over-the-air, in remote areas that were not cost-effective for cable, such as in Valemont, B.C.

In 2009, although there are still about 200 “community channels” in operation country-wide, CACTUS estimates that just over 100 of those, or 1/3 the original number, are genuinely “community-access”; that is, enabling individuals and groups within communities to make programs and messages for themselves. These include:

 The ~45 members of Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec (Fedetvc). Some of the Fedetvc members manage community channels on behalf of a cable operator by contract. Others are independent non-profit community TV corporations that supply programming for part of the playback week of a local cable company. The future of many of these groups are uncertain both because their sources of financing are fragile and because they depend on cable companies for distribution. Many have had to pursue commercial-like models in recent years to survive. As a result, many are functioning below capacity as far as their ability to do outreach in the community.

 The ~33 channels operated by Access Communications (a cable co-operative) throughout Saskatchewan (approximately half of the cabled communities in Saskatchewan).

 The ~19 channels operated by Westman Cable (a cable co-operative) in western Manitoba (accessible to a minority of communities in Manitoba, with just over 26,000 member households).

 Five of the low-power OTA license holders, located in British Columbia, Ontario, NTW and New Brunswick. (The other low-power OTA license holders do not enable access by the community at large.)

 Seven organizations in New Brunswick that operate community channels on behalf of Rogers.

 An indeterminate number of smaller private cable companies (mostly members of the CCSA) that still enable community access, such as SeaSide in Nova Scotia. Cable companies vary widely in their attitudes toward enabling access... even from one town to the next within the same company, so it's difficult to arrive at an exact total.)

Approximately 90% of these channels are located in communities having fewer than 10,000 people (see Appendix A). So, while approximately 1/3 of the original 300+ community TV channels still do access production, they are accessible to less than 10% of Canada’s population. (They tend to be in communities small enough to be of little commercial interest to BDUs.)

Another 1/3 of the original number have been closed down or regionalized. For example, while Vancouver used to have 12 regional offices, these have been consolidated to a single downtown location. While New Brunswick used to have over 30 individual studios, today there are only six.

The remaining 1/3 are in the hands of cable companies that are no longer positively disposed toward community access. Control of content is in the hands of cable staff, although a few (in areas served by Rogers, for example) still allow volunteers to provide free labour as technicians.

In addition, the cable industry as a whole has lost market share, and is now subscribed to by only about 60% of Canadian households. Since telephone and satellite companies rarely contribute directly to community-access production, this is a further loss to the community sector.

So, access to a local community television channel has become a privilege enjoyed by a minority of Canadians. It is no longer a basic service accessible to all.

How do we reverse this trend?

b) CACTUS Position in Upcoming Policy Review

The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) is an association of individual Canadians, community groups and associations, OTA license holders, cable co-ops and others who are concerned about the loss of access to community channels by Canadians.

During the community sector review, CACTUS’ main requests will be:

1) The creation of a non-profit and non-commercial community-ACCESS license class. License holders will commit to 80% community-access productions. Equipment, training, and air-time will be offered to the community free of charge.

2) The creation of a Community-Access Media Fund (CAMF) to which holders of community-access licenses will be able apply. CACTUS will suggest that this fund be created primarily from the cable levy currently being spent by cable companies that no longer offer production access to their communities.

3) Holders of community-access licenses who apply to CAMF will be encouraged to set up platform-independent access production centres that might simultaneously hold OTA radio and television licenses, webstream, and have must-carry status on the services of all locally available BDUs. They will be encouraged to pool community resources; for example, maintaining offices in local community centres, libraries or theatres, so that the community can “one-stop-shop” to get their messages out. This diversified infrastructure will both promote efficiency and enable communities to modernize and use technologies for local communication to best advantage into the future.

If these requests become a reality, and a Community-Access Media Fund is created as a result of the upcoming hearings, how will the sector be revived?

c) IMPLEMENTATION

Depending on the size of the proposed Community-Access Media Fund, access can be extended to more or to fewer Canadians.

Here are two budget outlines, one for a small community (10-30,000) and one for a larger community (over 30,000). Extremely small communities (< 10,000) might maintain only a camera or camera and edit suite, and relay footage to a larger centre , while the largest cities (over 500,000) might have two-three separate access centres.

The goal is that as many Canadians as possible should be able to travel to a community-access production facility within 30 minutes on public transportation.

Small Community (10-30,000, of which there are 85 in Canada)

Startup Costs
Television
Studio
Control room
Edit suite
ENG kit
Mobile (van with portable cameras)
Headend/servers
$60,000
$160,000
$12,000
$10,000
$50,000
$20,000
Radio
Studio and control room
Voiceover booth
$10,000
$2,000
Internet lab (3 computers, modem, network) $6,000
Office equipment and furniture $2,000
Transmission equipment $60,000
Total $392,000
Yearly Operational Costs
3 staff (manager, community outreach co-ordinator/trainer, technician) $160,000
Repairs (parts, not labour) $10,000
Materials (e.g. videotape, office supplies) $30,000
Rent or mortgage, building maintenance $25,000
Total $230,000

Larger Community (> 30,000... of which there are 86 in Canada)

Startup Costs
Television
Studio(s)
Control room
Edit suites
ENG kits
Mobile (specialized vehicle, committed equipment, CCUs etc.)
Headend/servers
$100,000
$200,000
$12,000 per
$10,000 per
$100,000

$25,000
Radio
Control room and studio
Voiceover booth
$25,000
$2,000
Internet lab (5 computers, modem, network) $10,000
Office equipment and furniture $6,000
Transmission equipment $100,000
Total ~ $500,000

Yearly Operational Costs
5-8 staff (manager, community outreach co-ordinator/trainer(s), technician) $3-500,000
Repairs (not including labour) $10,000
Materials (e.g. videotape, office supplies) $40,000
Rent or mortgage, building maintenance $25- $50,000
Total $400-600,000

Proposed Fund Size, # Channels that Could Be Maintained

Community-Access Media Fund Size # of Channels

(includes yearly operating costs)
$30,000,000
(0.5 % cable gross revenues in 2008)  45/86 cities > 30,000
 20/85 communities 10-30,000
 Fund management ($500,000)
 National association that would provide the leadership to rebuild sector (CACTUS or equivalent) $1,000,000
$60,000,000
(1% of cable gross revenues in 2008)  80/86 cities > 30,000
 80/85 communities 10-30,000
 Fund management ($500,000)
 National association ($1,000,000)
$90,000,000
(1.5% cable gross revenues in 2008)  86/86 cities > 30,000
 85/85 communities 10-30,000
 Fund management ($500,000)
 National association ($1,000,000)
 ENG kits, edit suites, part-time staff support for additional communities < 10,000
 Special project grants, long-term infrastructure and equipment upgrades
 Additional neighbourhood offices in cities > 500,000
$120,000,000
(2% of cable gross revenues in 2008) Not necessary at this time.
> $120,000,000
(2% BDU revenues, including satellite and Telcos) Not necessary at this time.
>> $120,000,000
(2% BDU revenues, including satellite, Telcos, and ISPs ) Not necessary at this time.

OPERATING PRINCIPLES AND GOALS OF THE COMMUNITY-ACCESS MEDIA FUND (CAMF)

CAMF would establish long-term targets to distribute funds evenly throughout the regions, with proportionately more in smaller communities since:

 Minimum staffing, equipment and facilities are necessary to get on air in the smallest communities, and

 The sharing of common resources becomes more efficient in larger population centres.

Since:

 The long-term size of the fund is determined by estimates of on-going operational costs and not startup costs, and

 publicity and community education about the existence of the fund, how to apply for licenses, and how to operate access television channels will take time (not all within a single calendar year)

the CAMF strategy will be to:

 Upgrade facilities and establish adequate staffing at existing independent community TV organizations (including enabling the transition to holding OTA licenses for those currently on cable only, and the transition to digital and HD where appropriate).

 Establish a minimum number of access production centres in each region in the first year (at least one large and one small), which can become models and training centres to enable nearby communities to get up and running in subsequent years.

The following scenario is an example, assuming that CAMF is created from 1.5% of the existing BDU levy, or $90,000,000:

Year 1:

Infrastructure grants and upgrades to existing independent community-access television organizations (approximately 60 total, including members of the Fedetvc in Quebec, but not including cable co-operatives, which already have access to the cable levy):

Estimate per channel

 General equipment upgrades (could include digital and/or HD) $100,000
 Addition of OTA transmission equipment $100,000
 Addition of Internet access terminals,
webstreaming, on-line program archives $20,000
 Addition of radio broadcasting for communities that want it $20,000

ESTIMATE OF TOTAL UPGRADES PER CHANNEL: $240,000

ESTIMATE OF TOTAL UPGRADES $14,400,000

Supplement staffing for existing 60 (non cable-coop) channels: $15,000,000

Fund and national association: $1,500,000

New channel startups, including year 1 operational costs:
36 small, 36 large $59,100,000

Total Year 1: $90,000,000

Year 2:

Operational costs for 43 existing large channels >30,000 $21,500,000
(not including cable co-ops):

Operational costs for 93 existing small channels (<30,000) $21,390,000

Fund and national association: $1,500,000

New channel startups, including year 2 operational costs:
28 small, 28 large $45,610,000

Total Year 2: $90,000,000

Year 3:

Operational costs for 71 existing large channels >30,000 $35,500,000
(not including cable co-ops):

Operational costs for 121 existing small channels (<30,000) $27,830,000

Fund and national association: $1,500,000

New channel startups, including year 3 operational costs:
14 small, 14 large $22,820,000

4 additional neighbourhood offices in cities > 500,000 $2,350,000

Total Year 3: $90,000,000

And so on. In year 4, the remaining additional neighbourhood offices in cities > 500,000 would be complete and attention would be shifted to setting up additional outreach facilities in communities < 10,000 that are not within easy reach of a facility serving 10-30,000.

In actual fact, the setup rate in the first year of the fund might be slower than projected, due to the need for promotion and education about the purpose and availability of the fund monies. A more realistic estimate is that by the end of year 5, the fund would be mainly dispensing operational monies, monitoring performance of existing channels, and setting up additional outreach facilities in communities < 10,000 that are not within easy reach of a facility serving 10-30,000.

ROLE OF A NATIONAL COMMUNITY-ACCESS TELEVISION ASSOCIATION
(CACTUS or equivalent)

 Publicizing the availability of funding for community groups to set up access production centres.

 Supporting community groups in license application process.

 Assisting the CRTC in assessing applications, since an application in the new community-access license class would trigger eligibility for funding from CAMF. For example, while the CRTC would assess technical criteria that affect other sectors and license holders such as transmission range, protocols, and standards, CACTUS might assess the strength of the application from the point of view of involvement and support by a broad cross-section of community stakeholders, and the knowledge and understanding by the applicant community of the role and responsibility of a community-access channel.

 Supporting community groups in funding application process; for example, assistance in preparing realistic budgets (assessment from licensing process would be automatically forwarded to the fund).

 Providing technical and organizational guidance to community groups setting up new as well as existing channels; for example, who to hire, what equipment to buy, how to engage the community in production.

 Creating, pooling and distributing training materials for production centre staff, community producers, and volunteers.

 Lobbying for the community sector.

 Program sharing via a web site and archives, tape bicycling if appropraite, and (long term) supporting an application for a national public-access channel to share programming.

 Web site maintenance to share educational materials, member news and progress.

 Liaising with CAMF to achieve long-term growth targets in the community-access sector.

The board of directors for CACTUS would consist of member channel staff and community producers. Therefore, CACTUS advocates for the immediate needs of those working and volunteering within the sector.

RELATIONSHIP OF CAMF TO NATIONAL ASSOCIATION

CAMF would:

 Have final responsibility for assessing applications by would-be grantees.

 Administer grant monies.

 Monitor that applicants fulfill grant requirements (such as used to be done by the CRTC for cable community channels). Regular reporting would be required not only about programming volumes, genres, and numbers of individuals and community organizations that participate, but also about projects that:
- Benefit the community in concrete, measurable terms.
- Stimulate community debate on important issues.
- Capture and promote local culture or history.
- Involve previously excluded groups.
- Approach the use of media from new or alternative perspectives.

 Ensure that long-term regional targets for community-access are met.

The board of directors for CAMF would consist of a range of organizations with both a stake in the expression of local cultural identity as well as expertise to offer the sector, such as:

 National association (CACTUS) or community-access representative
 Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec
 Canadian Association of Media Education Organizations (CAMEO)
 Federation of Canadian Municipalities/Fédération canadienne des municipalités (FCM)
 Independent Media Arts Association/L’Alliance des arts médiatiques indépendants (IMAA)
 Educational sector (for example, a campus television channel such as NuTV in Calgary)
 A representative of the new media sector (Canadian Interactive Alliance/Alliance interactive canadienne)
 Aboriginal community
 Diversity/ethno-cultural community
 Accounting
 Governance
 Lawyer
Therefore, it will be the Fund’s responsibility to make sure that no regions or major sectors within Canadian society are excluded from access to community production facilities.
PROGRAMMING

The genius of the community-access sector is that a relatively small investment in infrastructure, equipment and training staff can result in large volumes of locally relevant and vital programming. This is possible due to the production multiplier effect of volunteers.

You need a minimal professional staff (trained in both production techniques and community facilitation) to set professional standards, to assist and co-ordinate community volunteers, and to practice outreach to sectors of the community that are often overlooked. Once these individuals are in place and begin to work with a community, a community-access television channel can produce about ten times the volume of programming that could be produced by full-time paid staff alone.

For example, prior to 1997-25 and the changeover in format that occurred throughout Shaw systems, 6 staff and 200 volunteers at Shaw Cable 10 in Calgary produced between 35 and 40 hours of new programming every week, in every genre, from children’s programming, to sports, to seniors, to news magazine, to short fiction, to phone-in programming on a range of topics from the stock market to tax tips. Much of this programming was live and interactive.

Similar ratios are possible at smaller channels. For example, the three-person staff suggested for communities of 10-30,000 might facilitate the community to produce 15-20 hours per week. The smallest communities, with only a camera and edit suite and one part-time staff person (studio), might produce 2-3 hours, which they would probably relay for playback to a medium-size centre, or pool programming with other equally small communities on a single channel.

If access production centres can be re-established in the 86 Canadian communities with populations > 30,000 and the 85 communities with populations between 10,000 and 30,000, those communities will be able to produce between 100,000 and 200,000 hours of new LOCAL production per year, more than all that is produced by the country’s private and public broadcasters combined.

While this production multiplier does work, volume of production should not be the only determinant of channel success, however. With increasingly fractured audiences who can find what they want to watch when they want to watch on a wide selection of channels, most community channels worldwide consider their programming a success if local audiences tune in a few times a week to important local issues, or niche programming aimed at them (children, for example).

There has been an intense focus recently on the possible loss of local news services from communities across the country. Questions have been directed at the community-access sector and its ability to fill these niche. The community-access sector can fill the need for locally relevant programming. Whether a particular community elects to produce in a traditional “news hour” format is unpredictable, however.

It’s important to remember that the traditional news format is expensive and resource-intensive because it’s made up of many short clips, each of which represents a separate shoot somewhere in the community, followed by intensive editing. It’s a big-city paradigm in which viewers can’t be expected to know the subjects of stories, and are assumed to want no more than a minute or two on several different topics rather than an in-depth look at any one.

Community-access volunteers tend to prefer to produce longer, more in-depth stories about topics of personal and community interest. Their smaller town audiences, who often know the protagonists, tend to want more too. So, instead of sending a crew to a football game, and editing just 3 minutes of highlights as part of a “news hour”, a volunteer crew is more likely to air the whole game, and the community is likely to want to watch it, because their kids are in it. Similarly, instead of interviewing a local politician and editing just a couple of key comments on an issue that may or may not affect most residents, community volunteers are more likely to engage that politician in studio for a full half hour on a local issue that affects everyone, perhaps inviting the audience to call in.

So, while a daily high-impact news format is not a common format on community-access TV channels world-wide, what audiences typically get is more: more variety and more depth.

It is, however, common for community-access television channels to produce weekly or bi-weekly news magazine programs, with slightly longer more in-depth segments. They may be updated with new stories as they come in from the community. These variety formats are often co-ordinated by channel staff, as they require input from and collaboration among multiple volunteers and community organizations.

MULTI-PLATFORM ACCESS CENTRES

Because distribution technologies keep changing, it’s important that money for local expression be put into multi-platform access production centres that:

 Leverage existing community resources. For example, they may be located in libraries, community centres, or theatres... places where the community meets and from which community events can easily be broadcast or webcast.

 Are platform-independent. They may simultaneously hold an over-the-air radio and television license, webstream, and have must-carry status on the services of all locally-available BDUs. They should be universally accessible to residents both as audiences and as producers.

This investment in infrastructure rather than in a single technology ensures that community-access production centres will remain current as new technologies come on line in the future.

It also means that the best communication strategies can be designed to assist the community to get its messages out... not confined to a single platform, but efficiently leveraging all. For example, a local band or an election debate presented in a theatre or community centre could be simultaneously videotaped and recorded for broadcast by radio and TV, webstreamed, and available on the services of the local cable operator or regional satellite feed.

OVER-THE-AIR CAPABILITY

CRTC policy 2002-61 was important in creating a new low-power broadcast license class for communities. With the new Community-Media Access Fund, this ability to reach communities free, over the air, can be expanded.

This is particularly important in an environment in which more and more private and public broadcasters are considering abandoning transmission towers and equipment during the transition to digital.

CACTUS sees several possibilities and has several questions/suggestions/requests for the CRTC:

1) It is the intention of CACTUS that new community-access production centres that apply to CAMF must hold over-the-air licenses, to ensure that their signals are universally accessible to their communities.

2) This can happen in several ways. Several of the current OTA license holders, such as St. Andrews and Hay River have set up analog transmission equipment for less than $20,000, by using lesser known brands of equipment, buying second-hand, and utilizing existing structures such as buildings rather than stand-alone towers. Others, depending on geography, geographical spread of the population, and existing towers and infrastructure, have had to pay as much as $100,000 for transmission equipment to get on air.

Depending on the size of CAMF, there are several possibilities for OTA low-power transmission:

 Dual analog digital television sets will continue to be available for some years. If funding is insufficient, communities that are currently transmitting analog signals could be allowed to continue to do so. (This is the policy that has been adopted for rural areas in several other Western countries, including the UK and some Scandinavian countries.) New license holders could be encouraged to purchase digital equipment or given the choice (since analog equipment is currently available second hand at a discount).

 If the private and public broadcasters are allowed to discontinue over-the-air service in communities < 300,000 as they have asked, could the CRTC request as compensation for these communities that the towers and equipment no longer being used be given to new community license holders?

 As outlined by the Canadian Media Guild, it is probably not necessary that smaller communities upgrade to HD in the short term. Existing community-access organizations could continue to use standard definition equipment for the life of that equipment, and upgrade gradually. New license holders would be encouraged to purchase HD equipment, budgets permitting (since HD models are often no more expensive than standard-definition equipment).

3) Some local frequencies for radio and television broadcast must be retained for community use, and not auctioned for use by wireless services.
Appendix A:
Existing Access Television Channels by Group and Population

Group
> 30,000 10-30,000 < 10,000
Quebec Federation Montreal
Terbonne
Châteauguay Dolbeau-Mistassini
Roberval
Thetford Mines
Lachute
Beloeil
Victoriaville Mont-Joli
Kamouraska
Cabano
Vallee de la Matapedia (Amqui)
Normandin
Malbaie
Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre
Baie-Saint-Paul
Buckingham
Témiscaming
Macamic
Havre St-Pierre
Les Escoumins
Colombier
Chute-aux-Outardes
Chapais
Saint-Godefroi
Mont-Louis
Petite-Vallée
Grande-Rivière
Cap-aux-Meules Îles-de-la-Madeleine
Beauceville
Saint-Victor
Berthierville
Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon
St-Jérôme
Mont-Tremblant
Saint-Hubert
Waterloo
Plessisville
Low-Power OTA Leamington, ON Telile, NS Ash Creek, BC
Hay River, NWT
St. Andrews, NB
Valemount, BC
Chetwynd, BC
Westman Cable, (MT) Brandon Boissevain
Carberry
Dauphin
Deloraine
Gilbert Plains
Gladstone
Killarney
Melita
Minnedosa
Neepawa
Rivers
Roblin
Russell
Souris
Ste. Rose du Lac
Swan River
Virden
Access Communications (SK) Regina Biggar
Bredenbury
Canora
Churchbridge
Coronach
Emerald Park
Esterhazy
Estevan
Kamsack
Kindersley
La Ronge
Lashburn
Maidstone
Meadow Lake
Melville
Norquay
Rosetown
Saltcoats
Springside
The Battlefords
Theodore
Unity
Weyburn
White City
Wilkie
Yorkton
ICTV, Vancouver Vancouver (lower east side)
Community groups operating a community-access channel on behalf of Rogers in New Brunswick Chipman
Minto
St. Stephen
St. George
Grand Manan Island
Harvey
McAdam

Appendix B:
COMMUNITY-ACCESS MEDIA FUND

Mandate
The Community-Access Media Fund (CAMF) would be a not-for- profit funding organization that would distribute funding to community-access licensees for their operations. It would provide funding for new distribution technologies, community outreach and other special projects. The Fund would be responsible to collect information and statistics to monitor the performance of licensees.
Mission
The mission of the Fund would be:
 To support community-access media centres that enable Canadians to use multiple technologies for local expression, including both traditional media such as television and radio, as well as new media such as the Internet, wireless technologies and other new digital platforms.

 To give communities the tools they need to effectively communicate among residents, community organizations, and policy-makers on issues of common concern, to better their communities, and to celebrate and reflect local culture.

 To enable community-media centres in Canada to reflect the diversity of the communities they serves.

 To solicit and distribute contributions/grants and other forms of support to community-access media centres for operations, production, training, distribution, and other purposes that support the aims of community-access production and distribution in Canada.

 To develop community media as an integral part of the Canadian media fabric.

1. Priorities of the Fund

Assistance would initially be made available for the following priorities. (As the needs of community-access media centres change over time, so will the program priorities of the Community-Access Media Fund.):

 Operational Costs
Operational costs of community-access media centres, including routine maintenance of production and distribution equipment for multiple platforms (TV, radio, Internet, etc.), staff, facilities, production costs.

Applicants would be encouraged to show:

 How they will leverage existing community resources to achieve maximum visibility, accessibility, and efficiency, such as locating themselves in community centres, libraries, secondary schools or media colleges.

 How they will solicit involvement with a diverse cross-section of the community, including community organizations, Aboriginal, ethnically diverse groups, persons with disabilities, official language minority groups (where applicable), educational institutions, local businesses, the municipality, provincial and federal elected representatives, artistic and cultural groups.

 Grants for New Community-Access Media Centres
Start-up costs for new media centres, including licensing, production and transmission equipment, facilities, hiring.

 Technological Upgrades for Existing Centres
 Upgrades of production equipment, including migration to digital and HD as appropriate (pending CRTC policy directives and industry changes such as the continued availability of analog reception equipment).

 Addition of new production and distribution platforms, such as radio, Internet, wireless, over-the-air.

 On-going Leadership and Education within the Community Sector
On-going leadership and education to the community-access sector would be carried out by a new national association (CACTUS or equivalent); for example, identification of underserved areas to develop new access-media centres, assistance to would-be licensees, technical and organizational asistance to new licensees, the organizational of professional events, the development of educational materials, common archives of programming, etc. The Fund would provide funding to this association.

 Special Project Funding
Development monies to be made available for special projects, such as the on-going monitoring of distribution technology, and research to determine the best ways to engage sectors of the population that have been overlooked in the past.

 Other Responsibilities of the Fund
The Fund would collect information and statistics on the performance of the community-access media centres. Licensees would be required to submit to the Fund on an annual basis the following information:
 Number of hours of programming produced, by genre.
 Platforms used to produce and distribute programming.
 Number of community producers, volunteers, and organizations involved in the media centre.
 Projects having high impact, such as those which:
- Benefit the community in concrete, measurable terms.
- Stimulate community debate on important issues.
- Capture and promote local culture or history.
- Involve previously excluded groups.

2. Funding

 Community-access media has fallen behind in this country due in part, to the lack of funding available to enable community groups to apply for their own licenses. Since facilitating local expression and Canadian culture is one of the licensing requirements of the BDU sector, it is recommended that funding for these initiatives should come from the BDU 5% levy.

 While the major funding should come from the BDU 5%, the Fund would seek other sources of funding to supplement this amount. It would investigate charitable status so that it could issue tax receipts for donations made by the public and pursue grants from foundations. National government and non-governmental organization sponsorships would be sought. Government grants would be solicited for various special projects.

 The Fund would encourage the community-access media centres themselves to collaborate with municipalities, local businesses, and educational institutions. It would reward applications by communities that have made efforts to diversity financing.

3. Governance
 The organization would be federally incorporated as not for profit. Charitable status would be investigated.
 The Board of Directors would ensure accountability and transparent decision –making, allowing input from stakeholders.
 Those in charge of making decisions would not have any affiliation with any potential funding recipient to avoid conflict of interest.
 The Board of Directors would be comprised of 10 to 12 voting individuals, including representatives from the following organizations:
- National association (CACTUS) or community-access representative
- Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec
- Canadian Association of Media Education Organizations (CAMEO)
- Federation of Canadian Municipalities/Fédération canadienne des municipalités (FCM)
- Independent Media Arts Association/L’Alliance des arts médiatiques indépendants (IMAA)
- Educational sector (for example, a campus television channel such as NuTV in Calgary)
- A representative of the new media sector (Canadian Interactive Alliance/Alliance interactive canadienne)
- Aboriginal community
- Diversity/ethno-cultural community
- Accounting
- Governance
- Lawyer

 The Fund’s Board members would serve on a fixed term, rotating system, without remuneration
 Board members would be nominated and/or elected by the bodies named. For example, CAMEO would designate the media literacy reprentative. IMAA would designate a film or video artist representative.
 The Board would be responsible for ensuring effective management of the Fund, creating policies and practices regarding fund distribution, oversight of finances, strategic planning.
 The Board would establish effective and efficient processes to appraise applications objectively.
 The Board would be a policy Board; it would not manage the Corporation.
 The Corporation and the Board would be governed by its by-laws.
 Annual general meetings would be held at which time financial statements and annual reports would be made available and directors would be elected to the Board.

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CACTUS Presents to Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage

During the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage emergency meetings this summer on local programming, CACTUS members Cathy Edwards and Michael Lithgow made the following presentation (also available in video at http://www2.parl.gc.ca/CommitteeBusiness/CommitteeHome.aspx?Cmte=CHPC&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=2 (click on May 13th):

"The Canadian Association for Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) is building a bilingual national membership of independent community television channels, cable co-op community television channels, some private cable companies that still practice community-access television, and the public who uses and watches them. We are an association that believes in citizen access to the airwaves... that is, that individual members of the public should be able to participate in the broadcast system.

The Broadcast Act specifies that Canada’s broadcasting system should enable a diversity of voices to be heard, and that there should be as broad-based access to it. The economic crisis has also focussed attention on the scarcity of local programming. The latter problem is not new, however. Both CBC and private broadcasters have been cutting back on production and shutting channels in smaller population centres for years. Over the same period, BDUs have progressively regionalized and professionalized community television production, resulting also in station closures and fewer hours of local programming.

This is a great pity, as it is the community sector that has the greatest capacity to address all three needs:

 For diversity
 For access by as many Canadians as possible
 For local programming and expression.

It is impossible to have more diversity and more broad-based access than to enable every Canadian, every organization in civil society, and every community to be a producer. This has been the genius of the Canadian community-access model, a brainchild of the National Film Board. It was enabled in the early 1970s by the introduction of portable video recorders and the presence of cable television in communities across the country. This model has been copied world-wide, and today is a robust part of the broadcasting systems of more than 30 nations, including the majority of Western democracies. Most have recognized community broadcasting as a third tier, which funtions according to a different paradigm than public and private broadcasting. Most recently, the European Union has recognized the tier formally, and recommended members to adopt financial and legislative supporting structures for the community tier as a way to promote inclusion and vital multicultural dialogue.

Meanwhile, here in the cradle of the community-access movement, the sector that has the most potential to respond to our crisis in local programming has been gutted by successive rounds of CRTC legislation and misuse of community channel funds by the country’s biggest cable operators:

 The damage began in 1997, when community television was officially deregulated. Funding to the sector was cut from 5% to 2% in larger markets to make way for the Canadian Television Fund, and cable operators were given the choice whether to have a community channel at all. Most opted to keep the 2% rather than give it up to the CTF, but began to look at the channels as potential revenue sources.

 Responding to pressure by cable companies, the CRTC relaxed rules against advertising on the channels. Many of the programs are thinly disguised vehicles for product promotion, often for national and international companies, not even local ones.

 The public in many centres such as Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg have been kicked off the channels, in favour of professionally produced formats that mimic commercial production. For example, in Calgary, where I worked as the Volunteer Co-ordinator from 1993 to 97, 400 volunteers and a half dozen staff produced over 35 hours of new production per week, in every conceivable genre, from mobile sports, to seniors and kids programs, to live arts and entertainment, to local issues and phone-in debates. After the channel was professionalized, production was reduced to one hour or less of news per day.

 Studios in smaller communities have been closed. Where Vancouver once had 12 regional offices giving access to 1200 volunteers, there is now one, in Shaw’s corporate tower downtown. Where New Brunswick once had 30 studios spread around the province, today Rogers offers only 6. Not only are cable operators closing studios on their own initiative without repercussion from the CRTC, but the CRTC is promoting the closures by allowing mergers of service areas.

 In 2002, in response to public outcry, the CRTC revised its 1997 policy, and introduced the requirement that cable community channels air 30-50% of “access production” (a far cry from the channels being 100% at the disposition of their communities, but better than nothing), and should offer training and equipment to the public. Most of the big cable BDUs simply ignore these rules because there has been no monitoring nor disciplinary action by the CRTC.

 The 2002 policy also introduced the idea that community groups should be able to apply for over-the-air licenses for community television, but there was no funding formula offered, and fewer than 10 community groups in English Canada have stepped up to the plate, mostly surviving on bingos and advertising. Approximately 40 independent community television corporations in Quebec have managed to survive on grants from the Quebec Ministry of Culture and sponsorship, but most are producing below capacity because of funding shortages.

 The 2002 policy also introduced the idea that if a cable operator was not providing community programming in the spirit of CRTC policy, that another organization within the community could apply for the 2-5% cable levy. Several such applications have been made, where cable operators are flagrantly violating access requirements, but they have always been turned down. As a double whammy, the low-power license holders who are offering access programming, cannot apply for the levy.

 Despite the CRTC commitment to hold a hearing into the community television sector this fall, recent CRTC rulings continue to damage this sector. In December, the CRTC ruled in a closed hearing in less than ten minutes that Shaw could buy the Campbell River TV Association, one of the last remaining cable co-operatives in English Canada, which had been providing community programming on Vancouver Island for over 50 years.

 Distinctions between cable license classes may be removed, resulting in less funding for community television in small communities (a reduction from 5% to 2% of cable gross revenues). This change was proposed in 2009-176, whose dead-line for interventions was this Monday.

 When concerned parties contact the CRTC to understand the impact of new regulations, CRTC staff themselves often seem unaware how changes affect the sector. There should be an Ombudsman’s Office for the Community Tier monitoring the coherency of decisions and policies.

So, CACTUS would like to alert the Standing Committee that we fear that the CRTC lacks the willpower and political backing to make the structural changes necessary. The loss to Canada is that the one sector that could best respond to the current crisis in local programming has been successively undermined. But how is the sector different?

 Because the community-access model employs volunteers, a typical community channel can produce 5-10 times as much programming as a professional channel. Any public or BDU-funding given to the sector acts as seed money, which is multiplied in the hands of the community to produce programming for the community. The current drift toward regionalization and commercialization of community channels by cable companies has meant that the same economic factors limiting local production in the public and private tiers have come into play in the community tier. This process needs to be reversed to get production back into communities, to leverage the economic and creative genius of the community-access model.

 Because program ideas come from the community itself, the community can produce programs tailored to its own needs. Better communication between local government, residents, businesses, and community organizations leads to better infrastructure development and better promotion of local events and culture.

 Participation in television production, which is still the medium by which most Canadians derive information and entertainment, develops a more engaged and critically aware populace, more able to deal with complex challenges as we move forward.

What would CACTUS like the Standing Committee to do?

To revitalize the community television sector so that it can play its part in fulfilling the diversity and access requirements of the Broadcast Act, the $80,000,000 being spent yearly by cable companies on so-called “community programming”, as identified by the Lincoln Report, Our Cultural Sovereignty, needs to be liberated to independently run community channels that are accessible to all, representative of their communities, and present in those communities. While cable companies may once have been the obvious trustee for community-access production, the era of the small cable company who was a close partner with the community is gone.

At a time when cable operators buy commercial TV stations for a dollar and may soon buy commercial TV networks, it is also disquieting that those same BDUs are gatekeepers for the issues that can be discussed on our community channels, the one—at least potentially—truly free grassroots window in the broadcasting system. This tier, when functioning as it was designed, is an essential safety valve for our democracies.

What will CACTUS pledge to do if this happens?

A NEW VISION:

During the ten years that community television has languished in Canada, it has made great advances around the world. With the adoption of small high-definition camcorders and computer editing suites, access centres in other countries are producing programs that are indistinguishable from professional content, except in ways that we view as an advantage: they are local, they are fresh, they take risks and showcase real people taking stands about local issues.

Not only has the video production technology changed, the distribution platforms have of course also changed. The most advanced community access centres in the world are platform-independent. They offer residents free training and equipment for not only video and radio production, but also web design and computer skills. They are housed in live theatres, libraries, and community centres, so that residents can “one-stop” shop to get their messages out. The resulting productions have must-carry status on all platforms, including over-the-air, cable, satellite, and Internet.

If community access centres of this kind can be adequately funded from the existing BDU levy or from new sources, CACTUS has the expertise to lead the tier to provide this level of service and to fill the gaps in local programming. Where Canada once led the world in the use of new technologies at the local level, we would do so again.

Thank you for your time."

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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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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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