After eight long years of complaints from the Canadian public that they have been excluded from “community TV channels” on cable, the CRTC released a new community TV policy for Canada in late August that was little better than the existing policy. The new policy (2022-622) leaves all spending, programming, and training decisions firmly in the hands of cable companies.
However, in an interesting addendum to the new policy announcement, the CRTC has decided to cap spending by cable companies on their community channels at current levels. Between 1997 and 2022, cable companies were expected to spend at least 2% of their revenues on a “community channel”. In the future, if cable revenues continue to rise, this percentage will fall to 1.5%. The CRTC in its policy notice 2022-623 asked the Canadian public what should be done with the 0.5% difference, which amounts to about $30 million per year.
By the dead-line on September 30th, 31 interveners had responded. Cable companies such as Cogeco and Rogers asked that the difference be spent on closed-captioning, which has become a requirement of the new community TV policy. The Independent Broadcasters Group and the Canadian Media Production Association asked that the money be used to fund more Canadian programming via funds such as the Canada Media Fund.
The majority of interveners, however, (20) reiterated the support shown by more than 3000 Canadians at the main community TV policy hearing in April for the proposal by the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) that the money be used to fund non-profit community-based multi-media centres that would be become centres of new technology training and excellence nation-wide.
Catherine Edwards, the spokesperson for CACTUS, reflected, “We are really pleased. This second round of consultation enabled us to further refine our proposal for a Community-Access Media Fund that could enable communities to set up their own channels, particularly in the more than 200 communities whose community studios have been closed by cable companies since the 1990s.”
Several interveners who supported the proposal noted their readiness to step into the gap left by cable companies. Telecommunities Canada, an association representing 3,000 free public Internet portals or “CAP” sites, wrote “There are many CAP sites who would be ready to serve as the nuclei of the new channels proposed by the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) to fill the widening gaps in the cable community channel system.” Timothy Dallett, Interim Director of the Independent Media Arts Alliance, an alliance of more than 80 artist-run centres representing more than 12,000 media artists commented, “We have members that are more than ready to take on this mandate. They’re already non-profits with track records facilitating access by the community to training and video production equipment. All they need is broadcast licenses.”