Opening remarks by Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
At the public hearing in Gatineau
April 23, 2013
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Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this public hearing during which we will focus on the applications by television services seeking to obtain distribution orders under section 9(1)h) of the Broadcasting Act.
It is the responsibility of all participants in the Canadian broadcasting system to provide Canadians with dynamic and innovative content that informs, enlightens and entertains their audiences. However, sometimes competition alone cannot ensure the achievement of all of the objectives of the Act so that all Canadians can identify with and be reflected in their broadcasting system. This is why Parliament has entrusted us with regulatory mechanisms such as section 9(1)h) of the Act.
Various distribution orders
This section enables the Commission to require television distribution companies to carry certain services under the terms and conditions specified by the Commission. These terms and conditions can take different forms, such as:
- "must-offer," in other words, that the service must be made available to subscribers, who can then choose whether or not to subscribe to it
- mandatory distribution on basic service in certain regions of the country, in other words that all subscribers of the region automatically receive the service, or
- mandatory distribution on the basic service across Canada as well as
- whether or not to impose a minimum monthly rate.
Services that benefit from mandatory distribution on basic service have a great privilege, as they are assured that they are part of a basic service package offered to all subscribers of cable and satellite companies. These services also have a direct impact on consumers’ bills and on the choice of services they receive. On this note, the various distribution companies appearing before us will be asked to justify how rates for services offered on the basic service are passed on to their subscribers.
The CRTC is well aware of the impact of the decisions that it could take in this proceeding and recognizes that consumers expect to be able to choose the television services they receive. We also know that subscribers are more and more concerned with the affordability of television services. This is why we consider mandatory distribution pursuant to section 9(1)h) to be an exception.
The CRTC is nonetheless required to examine such applications, for which some applicants have been waiting for over four years. We will therefore consider them against the backdrop of the mandate entrusted to us by the Canadian Parliament under the Broadcasting Act. In doing so, we will take into account the interests of Canadians.
Given its exceptional nature, the CRTC has set the bar very high for obtaining a mandatory distribution order on digital basic service pursuant to section 9(1)h). The CRTC’s policy requires that a service seeking such an order must clearly demonstrate its exceptional nature and that it achieves important public policy objectives under the Act.
Each applicant must therefore demonstrate, with supporting evidence, that its service:
- meets a real and exceptional need within the broadcasting system
- contributes in an exceptional manner to Canadian expression
- contributes in an exceptional manner to all the objectives of the digital basic service and specifically contributes to one or more objectives of the Act, and
- makes exceptional commitments to original, first-run Canadian programming in terms of exhibition and expenditures.
In addition, an applicant who already has a distribution order must demonstrate that its service continues to meet the criteria in this licence renewal.
That said, the hearing panel is approaching this public hearing with an open mind regarding the proposals by the various applicants, with a view to providing a broadcasting system and a basic service that best meets the objectives of the Act and the expectations of Canadians.
The Commission received a total of 16 applications from television services seeking mandatory distribution orders, as well as six applications from services seeking to renew their broadcasting licences as well as their mandatory distribution.
Eight of these applications are from new services: The Legislative Assemblies of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, Described Video Guide, Canadian Punjabi Network, Accents, Fusion, Maximum Television Canada, AMI-tv French and The Canadian Movie Channel.
Eight other applications are from existing services: EqualiTV, Sun News Network, All Points Bulletin, TV5, Vision TV, Natural Resources Television, Dolobox TV and ARTV. The latter service is seeking a "must-offer" order.
Finally, the six other applications are from services that currently have mandatory distribution on digital basic service, a privilege they want to maintain. They are: Avis de recherche, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC), AMI audio, Accessible Media and Canal M.
As with all public proceedings, the opinion of Canadians is very important in helping us fulfill our legislative responsibilities. We therefore wish to thank all who have agreed to participate in this hearing either by submitting comments or by appearing before us.
We received over 135,000 comments in connection with this proceeding, which cover both the licence renewal applications and the applications under section 9(1)h). This shows the extent to which Canadians are interested in the television services available to them.
The panel for this hearing consists of:
- Candice Molnar, Regional Commissioner for Manitoba and Saskatchewan
- Louise Poirier, National Commissioner
- Stephen Simpson, Regional Commissioner for British Columbia and the Yukon
- Tom Pentefountas, Vice-Chairman of Broadcasting, and
- myself, Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman of the CRTC. I will be presiding over this hearing.
The Commission team assisting us includes:
- Pierre-Marc Perreault, Hearing Manager and Senior Policy Analyst
- Leigh-Anna Gates, Legal Counsel, and Peter McCallum, General Counsel, Communications Law, and
- Lynda Roy, Hearing Secretary and Supervisor of Public Hearings.
I would now invite the Hearing Secretary, Lynda Roy, to explain the procedures we will be following. Madam Secretary…
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