ARCHIVED - Public Notice CRTC 84-117

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Public Notice

Ottawa, 17 May 1984
Public Notice CRTC 1984-117
Services using the Vertical Blanking
Interval (Television) or Subsidiary Communications Multiplex Operation (FM) Introduction
The vertical blanking interval (VBI) of a television signal and the subsidiary communications multiplex operation (SCMO) channel of an FM radio signal each have the capacity of distributing a variety of special services.
In view of the growing interest in VBI/SCMO services, the Commission invited public comments, in Public Notice CRTC 1983-77 dated 13 April 1983, on the use of VBI/SCMO and highlighted a number of specific areas for consideration, in connection with the potential uses of VBI and SCMO. In response to requests received from interested parties, the deadline for the filing of comments was subsequently extended from 30 June 1983 to 30 July 1983 (Public Notice CRTC 1983-138).
There were 53 responses to the notice. While some comments were limited to the specific issues raised in Public Notice CRTC 1983-77, others also touched on broader issues related to the use of VBI/SCMO. It is clear from the number of submissions and an examination of the responses received, that there is a significant, broadly-based interest in the potential uses of these facilities.
While there were some areas of agreement, there was a wide divergence of opinion on some of the fundamental issues related to the use of VBI/SCMO. In their responses, over-the-air broadcasters and cable operators opposed the concept of issuing separate licences for VBI/SCMO; other respondents, on the other hand, favoured separate licensing. Views regarding possible restrictions if VBI/SCMO were to be licensed separately, were evenly divided.
While the question of access to VBI/SCMO capacity was of concern to many, there was nevertheless virtually unanimous agreement that broadcasters should not be obliged to provide access to third parties for the use of VBI/SCMO, if such services were not licensed separately.
Regarding the applicability of the Commission's broadcasting radio and television regulations, most respondents felt that the existing regulations do not apply and should not be made applicable.
Almost all respondents indicated that there should be no limitations on the types of services to be provided; however, most respondents indicated that VBI signals which are integrally related to the broadcast programming on the main channel should be treated differently from other VBI services. As to whether or not the Commission should become involved in establishing an order of priority for the distribution of VBI/SCMO services, the respondents were evenly divided on this question.
Most of the respondents felt that affiliates should not be obliged to carry VBI/SCMO services inserted by the network operator.
On the matter of cable carriage and upgrading of cable facilities, over-the-air broadcasters felt strongly that cable licensees should be obliged to carry these services and should upgrade their cable facilities, if necessary. Cable operators, on the other hand, held an equally strong opposing view. Most others, however, were inclined to support the broadcasters' position.
The Commission wishes to acknowledge the contribution made by all parties in the well-prepared and thorough submissions filed in response to this public notice.
Policy Objectives and Regulatory Approach
It should be noted at the outset that television and FM radio broadcasters have a primary responsibility to fulfill the commitments made with respect to the services that they are licensed to provide, and that any use of VBI/SCMO must not detract from the licensee's ability to meet all of its responsibilities, and to fulfill its promise of performance.
Many types of services are being proposed for distribution on VBI/SCMO, some of which are broadcast programming services, while others are not. To date, the Commission has authorized, on an experimental basis, SCMO services including telemetry, reading services for the print handicapped, background music and data transmission. VBI capacity has also been effectively used for providing closed captioned programs for the hearing impaired, for special information related services, such as the joint DOC/CBC IRIS project, and for technical testing purposes.
At this stage, it is not known if the demand for bona-fide programming is sufficient to fill VBI/SCMO capacity. While the Commission does not wish to stifle the development of VBI/SCMO, it wishes to ensure the availability of capacity for future broadcast programming services and to ascertain that VBI/SCMO services will also contribute to the enhancement of the Canadian broadcasting system. The Commission would be interested in the experiences of third parties in gaining access to VBI/SCMO facilities.
The Commission considers that services which are directly related to the programming broadcast on the main channel, such as captioning for the hearing impaired, should receive high priority, and it expects them to be come increasingly available.
The Commission also wishes to ensure that non-programming services are not subsidized by programming services and do not, in any way, limit the licensee's flexibility or technical ability to operate and develop its programming service on the main channel.
Some types of VBI/SCMO services may become viable only if they can be provided on a long term basis. The Commission would be concerned if long term commitments for the provision of non-programming services were to place constraints on the broadcaster's ability to respond to future programming needs.
While there appears to be considerable interest in the future uses of VBI/SCMO, the manner and the extent to which such capacity will actually be used is still uncertain. While some types of services have already been identified, new types will undoubtedly emerge. In the Commission's view, in light of such evolving circumstances, a flexible regulatory approach, which may allow greater adaptation to technical advances, is the most appropriate at this time. The Commission expects that this approach will encourage broadcasters to experiment and innovate with a view to contributing to the diversity of the Canadian broadcasting system.
The Commission has therefore decided to develop its regulatory approach in two phases. Phase I will be characterized by minimum constraints and maximum opportunity to innovate and stimulate the development of new Canadian services, consistent with the goals set out in the Broadcasting Act. In developing proposals for VBI/SCMO services, licensees will be expected to relate their proposals to the concerns and policy objectives outlined earlier in this notice. Licensees that are authorized to distribute VBI/SCMO services will be required to file a report detailing their experience in developing these services by 31 December 1986. The need, if any, for changes in the Commission's regulatory approach will be determined after this date.
Adjustments to its regulatory approach may be made in Phase II on the basis of the Commission's assessment of these services after their initial phase of operation, the extent to which the services have met the Commission's concerns and objectives and the circumstances which prevail at that time.
During the initial phase, these guidelines will be in effect, and licensees will be expected to adhere to them, as applicable:
1) Separate licences will not be issued for the use of VBI/SCMO; licensees must, however, submit an application for the Commission's prior approval for their use;
2) no limitations will be imposed, at this time, on the types of services which may be provided;
3) where appropriate, when capacity is available, licensees are encouraged to provide access to third parties on a mutually agreeable basis if the services to be provided on VBI/SCMO are consistent with the Commission's policy objectives out lined in this notice ("Policy Objectives and Regulatory Approach");
4) captions for the hearing impaired should be given a high priority; line 21 of the VBI must be reserved for this purpose;
5) revenues may be derived through advertising and subscription fees;
6) separate financial records are to be kept for each VBI and SCMO service;
7) technical quality on the main television or FM channel should not be impaired by the use of VBI/SCMO;
8) in accordance with the Department of Communications' Broadcast Specification BS-13, VBI lines 17, 18 and 19 will continue to be reserved for specific technical use by licensees;
9) cable television licensees should not curtail or alter VBI/SCMO services, unless the carriage of these services causes undue technical interference to the programming on a main channel;
10) as stated earlier, licensees authorized to provide VBI/SCMO must file reports on their experience and progress in meeting the Commission's objectives by 31 December 1986.
The Commission will follow the development of these services with great interest.
Fernand Bélisle Secretary General

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