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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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Winnipeg Free Press Article #2 re. Bumping Community TV Off Basic Cable Tier

What Will Become of Community TV? (Part 2)

If you were following this column 2 weeks ago, you’ll know that for the last 10 years, citizens in Winnipeg have not had access to their “community-access channel” (channel 9). These days, the channel is entirely programmed by Shaw staff, despite CRTC requirements that at least 30-50% of the content be “access programming” (initiated and executed by members of the community at large). Gone are the days of cult shows like Math with Marty, What’s New Pussycat, or the Pollock and Pollock Gossip Show, let alone hours and hours in every genre covering local sports, children’s, multicultural activities and local affairs.

The latest nail in the coffin for community TV is the current CRTC proposal to remove the requirement that the community channel be carried on the basic cable tier. Canada’s Broadcast Act says that there are three tiers in our broadcasting system: public (the CBC and provincial educational broadcasters), private, and community. Since there are so few public and community channels compared to the vast array in the private tier, the few there are should be as widely available as possible; for example, the CBC and provincial educational channels are available over the air as well as through cable and satellite. Ideally, the same would be true of the community channel. When cable was the only game in town, the community channel (the sole representive of that “tier”) was available to most Canadians. Up until 1997, approximately 80% of Canadian homes had at least basic cable service. Since 1997, satellite customers have lost access to the community channel. If the community channel is removed from basic tier, it will become even more of a rare bird, more likely to be neglected by cable operators, and to lose further funding. (Financial support for community channels fell from 5% to 2% in 1997).

By comparison, the community tier in many other countries is not a single channel. In the US, a percentage of bandwidth (often 5 or 6 channels) is set aside for community use, showing programming made not just by private citizens but by municipal governments, universities and schools, resulting in access to a rich educational local mix. In Australia, Israel, and the UK, there are national public-access channels in addition to local community channels, which play the best and most nationally relevant of the alternative voices that make their way onto community channels.

So what can we do? The CRTC proposal is not yet policy. The Commission is asking for public feedback by October 9th. Telling the CRTC what you think is as simple as accessing http://www.crtc.gc.ca/archive/ENG/Hearings/2007/n2007-10.htm, scrolling to the end, filling out an automatic feedback form, and clicking “Send”. If you want to read the document in full (which deals with carriage rules for all channels, not just the community channel), the key paragraph is 73. If you used to participate in production at or watch Winnipeg’s community channel, tell the Commissioners what value it has had to you or community groups to which you belong. Ask that the channel be reopened for access by the community, and that it remain in the basic cable package.

Catherine Edwards

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Winnipeg Free Press Article #1 re. Status of Community TV

This article appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press in September. Winnipeg had one of the most active and avant-garde community programming in the country at its height.

"Channel 9 : Take Back the Airwaves!"

Do you remember Wayne’s World? How about the original Tom Green Show? Do you remember when you could tune in to VPW 13 and see interactive programs made by volunteers… shows that recruited cult followings in their time, like Math with Marty, What’s New Pussycat? or the Pollack and Pollack Gossip Show?

If your memory is hazy, it’s because those days are gone. In 1997, the CRTC stopped mandating community access to “community TV channels”. The response by most cable companies, including Shaw, was to kick the public off its channels, and see whether they could be turned to a competitive advantage. Shaw hired professional reporters and came up with their now-familiar newswheel, with a weather strip along the bottom and the same one hour of local news repeated all day. Before the format change, Videon and Shaw aired more than 30 hours a week of volunteer-produced local programming in every imaginable genre, including kids’ shows, pet shows, multicultural shows, music shows (Alternative Rockstand, The Cosmopolitans), sports, variety, and even drama, often showcasing works from the Winnipeg Film Group (Survival, Apocalypse Now).

The other thing that has changed about so-called “community TV” is the ads. Prior to 1997, you could sponsor a program and the community channel and your sponsorship could be acknowledged with a verbal thank you or text credit. You couldn’t show moving video. If you’ve watched channel 10 lately, you’ll know it’s rife with ads and product placement, making it indistinguishable from commercial TV.

So what was the deal with public access to the community channel before 1997? How come you could call the cable company back then and make your own program and now you can’t? Ever since cable was introduced to Canada in the 1970s, the cable industry has been considered a license to print money. All you had to do was lay down cable and retransmit channels (mostly American) and charge for it. You assumed none of the risks of program production. Not only that, your license was a monopoly, since cities couldn’t have multiple cable companies ripping up the streets in response to service calls. So, to ensure that cable companies “gave something back” to their communities to a) balance the flood of foreign programming to Canadian homes and b) compensate cities for their use of public rights of way and of the public airwaves, the CRTC used to require cable companies to spend 5% of their gross revenues on a local channel that would be programmed by members of the community… a soapbox forum for freedom of speech on the most dominant medium of our times: television. Canada led the world in media literacy training and thinking, and this model was copied in the United States, Europe, Israel and Australia….and is still spreading, now into the developing world. The idea that democracies can only call themselves such if the average person can express themselves on mass media has been enshrined in the famous 2003 Geneva Declaration of Principles for the Information Society (http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs/geneva/official/dop.html).

So what happened in 1997? Telephone and satellite companies entered the market, cable companies were gobbling one another up (there are just 3 big cable companies left in Canada, where once there were over 50) and the CRTC lost control. By 2002, because of public outcry about cable company takeover of what had previously been true community-access channels, the CRTC reinstated its requirement that the cable operator should provide training to the public, and that at least 30-50% of the programming ought to be produced by people in the community. Few of the old volunteer contributors to the channel are aware of the regulations now, however, and Shawalthough they are required by CRTC directive 2002-61 to advise the public of their rights and to invite them to make program proposals in their billing inserts at least once a yearhas been blithely ignoring the regulations. (In a recent interview, Alex Park, Shaw’s VP or Programming,said that Shaw is meeting the requirement to provide “access” to the community by sending professional reporters out to cover your event. Er…not exactly freedom of speech or the “high level of citizen participationand expression” envisioned in the regulations, and nothing to distinguish them as a license-holder from any private broadcaster…) Shaw’s disdain of production by the community was perhaps most evident in their recent decision to throw out their entire pre-1997 archives, a priceless record of Winnipeg cultural and social history.

So what can you do? Do you have an idea for a program? You can call the program manager, Allan Sayegh at 480-3408 and ask for training, facilities and assistance to produce it. If you don’t get anywhere on a first visit, you can download and print policy 2002-61 from the CRTC web site at www.crtc.gc.ca, go back for a second visit and poke your finger at the regulation. Failing that, you can lodge a complaint with the Winnipeg CRTC office at 983-6306. (In the old days, the Canadian Cable Television Association used to field such complaints, but since its dissolution, consumers have no recourse but to go directly to the CRTC.) Failing that, if enough complaints are received by the CRTC about a given cable operator’s “community channel”, 2002-61 introduced the radical idea that an alternative group within the community could apply to operate the channel and receive the cable levy in the cable company’s stead (which amounts to several hundered thousand dollars a year in a market the size of Winnipeg). A successful challenge under the new policy has not yet been won in Canada (two concerned organizations are currently making the attempt), but it’s food for thought. Perhaps it’s time for an outside organization that could truly represent grassroots voiceslike Video Poolto be given the chance.

Catherine Edwards

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Community TV in Campbell River B.C. Under Threat

Larry Widen of Campbell River, Vancouver Island, submitted this letter to his local paper. It concerns an offer by Shaw (delivered in the form of a letter to every homeowner) to buy the co-op-owned cable system for $3,000 per person. Read on...

THE CRTV QUESTION ~ IT’S ABOUT COMMUNITY PRIDE

I cannot remember the year but it was, I think, in the early 1970s that I had the privilege of serving as the president of CRTV. I am proud that during my term as president the extremely rigid provisions that must be met to sell CRTV were written into the bylaws. I mention this to make it clear that I have a personal and sentimental bias in my arguments that CRTV should remain a community owned and operated enterprise.

To support my argument for continuing with a community owned CRTV it is necessary to take an all too brief and incomplete look at the community spirit that is Campbell River.

· Some fifty years ago a small group set out on an impossible dream to bring cable TV to Campbell River at a time when no private enterprise had any interest in doing so as there was no profit to be made.

· A need for a public boat ramp in Campbell River resulted in a small group doing the organizing, fund-raising and getting the authorization and producing a public boat ramp on the spit.

· Jack Caldwell, the first lawyer to set up a practice in Campbell River, and others worked long and hard to realise their objective of our own hospital for Campbell River.

· In the 50s I recall meeting a chap named Ed Meade who was promoting the establishment of a museum in Campbell River. Today we have a wonderful museum that is second to none.

· Campbell River’s Maritime Center is a tremendous project that has now to be given national status.

· The Rotary Club’s sea walk is a prominent example of what the many Campbell River service clubs have accomplished.

· All one needs to do is look around Campbell River to create an almost endless list of quality community projects that have been produced.

All of the above projects, listed or not listed, were made possible with the hard work by dedicated residents and only with the support of Campbell River’s strong community pride and spirit.

The public boat ramp on the spit has recently been torn up without any consultation with those who promoted and built it. Indeed some were out in their boats only to return to find the boat ramp gone. Community pride and spirit were betrayed in this case. Perhaps, even now, a new public boat ramp could still be included into the new waterfront park on the Spit.

Our very own fully functioning hospital is under threat by the imposition of a so-called regional hospital. If the regional hospital model is adopted our Campbell River Hospital will certainly cease to exist, if not immediately then over time due to the cash flow demands of a large regional hospital. Only the residents of Campbell River coming together with their strong community spirit can now save our community hospital.

Let us not allow the fate of CRTV to follow the fate of the public boat ramp or the possible fate of Campbell River’s own hospital. Has Campbell River lost the once strong city pride and community spirit to be able to maintain and improve on our collective community achievements of the past?

There is most certainly the temptation of a one time cash payment from the sale of CRTV in competition with the choice of embarking on a project to upgrade CRTV to a full range of services for members at a cost and quality extremely competitive in the cable market place.

The major companies know that a full service cable system in Campbell River will produce good corporate profits. True, the major cable companies have many advantages due to their ownership in industry related companies including TV signal providers. Notwithstanding the major companies’ advantages Sandy and I are more than prepared to forgo a one-time cash payment to maintain our locally owned and controlled CRTV. If Shaw or Rogers can do it with a profit we can do it at cost.

During my term as president of CRTV in addition to being assigned the task of drafting the revised bylaws I was also assigned the task of building a cable broadcasting studio and putting Campbell River Cable 10 into the home of every subscriber. With the technical advice of Ed Selby, the head technician at the time, co-operation from the staff union, community support, the hiring of a programming coordinator and volunteers to operate the studio and do the programming CRTV channel 10 made it onto the cable. With local ownership and control cable 10 has continued to enhance our community pride and spirit and must be protected. Our current community programming is by any comparison exceptional. This experience of course adds to my personal and sentimental bias in this matter.

I commend the current board of directors and management for commissioning the report that provides a course of actions required to maintain CRTV as a publicly owned cable system for Campbell River and area. I support starting to do all the technical upgrades recommended at the earliest possible date. Notwithstanding the report’s other option to sell and Shaw’s current offer to purchase CRTV and even considering my personal bias in this matter I still sincerely believe that CRTV can and should be saved.

It is very important to maintain CRTV if we are to maintain our community spirit for we cannot lose one without doing severe damage to the other. The CRTV board of directors has properly placed the challenge before us as the owners. I am certain that this community can rise to the challenge, save and enhance CRTV as well as our community pride and spirit.

I support Campbell River over Shaw, Rogers or any other cable company.

Larry Widen

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Fearless TV: Television from Canada’s Poorest Neighbourhood

Fearless TV was born in the poverty and resilience of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES), Canada’s poorest and most vulnerable neighbourhood. Occupying a 25 block radius a little east of Vancouver’s business district, the DTES is home to over 5,000 intravenous drug users, and staggering levels of poverty, HIV infection rates, and social malaise. But it is also home to a vibrant creative community of residents, activists and artists. Fearless TV is television made in the DTES by people who live and work there.

The show was created on the heels of television activism workshops offered this Spring and last Fall by local organizer Sid Tan, founder of Access TV and long time community television activist. Tan explained that the workshops were designed to introduce people to community television and how to use it as a tool for social and political change. The response was so positive, they decided to make a show.

Fearless TV brings together creative resources from a number of community groups -- the DTES Community Arts Network (DTES-CAN), des media, Access TV and Gallery Gachet. Together, they are working to share the stories and points of view of the people who live in the DTES with the wider community.

The first episode was made in a month and shot on location at Gallery Gachet. In it, Sid Tan talks to Diane Thorn Jacobs, a member of the galleryabout its mission and activities. Carolyn Wong talks with David Eby, a lawyer withPivot Legal Society and author of a report on homelessness and housing in the DTES. Patricia Kelly talks to Paul Taylor, local resident and occupant of an SRO (Single Room Occupancy), the small and usually neglected hotel rooms that most resident live in. Sid Tan talks to Terry Hunter of Vancouver Moving Theatre about upcoming We're All In This Together, a project about addiction and recovery. And Paul Ryan talks with Kim Kerr, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Residents' Association (DERA).

The show has its debut airing on April 4 at 8 pm (cable 4) in the Lower Mainland.

Fearless TV isn’t available online yet, but to find out when it will be, or for more information, contact Sid Tan at accesstv[at]telus.net.

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How Much Money Did They Make? The CRTC Releases Its Annual Report On Television In Canada

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has tallied up the winnings, I mean, earnings of the television industry for 2006...

Canadian conventional television stations generated $2.2 billion in revenue in 2006. National advertising remained steady at $1.5 billion. Local advertising increased 3.4% to $375.4 million. Profitability, however, declined from $242 million industry-wide to $91 million according to the report.

Other interesting tidbits include:

Spending on foreign programming increased 12.2% from $613.2 million in 2005 to $688.3 million in 2006.

Spending on Canadian programming increased 6.3% from $587 million in 2005 to $623.7 million in 2006 (including $144.7 million for independently produced material, up from $138.5 million in 2005).

Genre expenditure breakdowns include: $328.1 million for news programs; $101.6 million on general interest programming; $73.9 million on drama; $66.3 million for other information programs; $35 million for musical and variety shows; $9.3 million for sports; and $5.7 million for game shows.

The industry employed 8,197 people in 2006.

To read the report go here. For more information, go the CRTC’s website.

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Tectonic Plates Shifting Under Cable Services (Community Access Still Protected, At Least For Now)

The CRTC is reassessing what basic cable means in preparation for the digitalization of the television industry in 2010. What is at stake are millions of dollars in revenues for broadcasters and how we organize and define what channels are "selected" for the least expensive cable service, the basic package.

Details of the hearing are expalined in Broadcast Notice 2007-1, items 7-18. In a nutshell, what is being determined in part is who gets to be included in the cable "basic package" (the question of why we have a "basic package" is not on the table). It is a money question. For every cable subscriber who receives a channel, the channel gets a fee. For example, the Weather Network gets 23 cents each month per subscriber. With 12 million subscribers, it collects about $2.76-million monthly. If your channel is in the basic package, everyone in Canada who has cable is a subscriber. Community channels are currently included in the basic package, but do not receive subscriber fees.

How channels are selected for inclusion in the basic cable package is a bit of black box magic and a bit of legislation. Some criteria are set out in the Broadcasting Act. For example, the Act states that subscribers should have access to a basic service that: (1) fosters the growth of Canada’s cultural, social, economic and political aims; (2) is varied and comprehensive, providing a balance of information and entertainment programming, at an affordable cost; (3) is drawn from local, regional, national and international sources; (4) includes educational and community programs; and (5) reflects and contributes to Canada’s linguistic duality and ethno-cultural diversity, including the special place of Aboriginal peoples in Canadian society.

So. The CRTC is challenging the inclusion of some channels while preserving the status of others. MuchMusic, CBC Newsworld, Le Réseau de l’information (RDI), TV5, Vision TV, VRAK-TV, The Weather Network/Météomédia and YTV are having their basic package status threatened. Canada's national networks, major U.S. networks and local cable access channels are not having their status questioned. Hearings begin on Tuesday, March 27, 2007 in Gatenau, Quebec to sort out which of the challenged stations should get to stay.

For more information, contact your local CRTC office and pester them with questions. This is something that all Canadians should have a say in. But because of the CRTC's Byzantine protocols, limited promotion of opportunities for public participation, and the complexity of the language generally used in CRTC public notices, the public will likely be unrepresented at the hearings.

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