ARCHIVED -  Public Notice CRTC 1985-151

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Public Notice

Ottawa, 18 July 1985
Public Notice CRTC 1985-151

Complementary Programming on the Community Channel

For related documents: see Circular No. 297 and Public Notice CRTC 1984-204
The Commission's current Cable Television Regulations require all cable television licensees to reserve a channel for community programming on the basic service, on a priority basis. The principal purpose of the community channel is to provide communities with access to a unique local service, distinct from the programming offered by traditional broadcasting stations. For the most part, only programming produced by a licensee, or by members of the community served by a licensee, is distributed on the community channel. Nevertheless, the Commission has also allowed the distribution of bicycled programs produced by other cable systems, provided that such programs are relevant and of interest to the community. In the case of cable systems with limited channel capacity (12 channels or less), the Commission has also permitted the distribution of the daily Question Period segment of the House of Commons proceedings on the community channel.
The Commission is generally pleased by the manner in which community programming has developed and matured over the years. Its effectiveness is the result of the efforts of those licensees who understood the benefits of providing programming complementary to conventional offerings and of responding to identified local needs and who have successfully built upon the Commission's initial policy framework, to create a vital and important element of the broadcasting system. The Commission also recognizes the valuable contribution made by the many thousands of community volunteers, upon whose efforts the licensees are dependent for the production of relevant community programming services.
A substantial amount of community programming is generally provided on a regular basis by the larger urban systems. In small rural towns and villages, local programming draws heavily upon the close sense of community shared by residents, and is an effective vehicle for local self expression. In most of these smaller communities, however, the community channel is only programmed for brief periods of each day or week.
Some cable licensees have requested that the Commission amend its policies to permit alternative programming to be distributed on the community channel during periods when local programming is not being distributed. In its Review of Certain Cable Television Programming Issues, dated 26 March 1979, the Commission noted that such requests arose from the overcrowding of the basic band on some cable systems, and that this particular problem would diminish as channel capacity and converter penetration increased. While this has occurred in the case of most urban areas, where the channel capacity of cable systems has been upgraded to 36 or 54 channels, many of the smaller systems lack the financial resources to rebuild, and will experience increasing pressures for the use of channels 2-l3 of the basic band.
On 12 June 1984, the Commission issued Circular No. 297 entitled Community Channel Policy Review, which addressed the proposals made by the Canadian Cable Television Association (CCTA) for modifications to the Commission's cable television policies. With regard to the request that, in addition to community programming services, licensees be permitted to distribute other compatible, non-commercial programming on the community channel, the Commission stated:
"In addition to raising several major policy issues, an amendment to the regulations may be required to permit the sharing of the community channel. The Commission considers that the pressures to share the community channel are felt most with the smaller (Class B) systems.
Accordingly, in Public Notice CRTC 1984-204 dated 3 August 1984, the Commission invited comments on whether licensees of Class B cable television systems should be permitted to distribute additional, complementary programming on the community channel.
Fourteen submissions were received in response to that public notice, including submissions from the CCTA, several cable television licensees, community groups, producer associations, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications of the Province of Ontario, CFTO-TV Ltd., and others.
The majority of comments were in favour of allowing the distribution of additional services on the community channel, although some recommended that restrictions be placed on the type and amount of non-local programs or services which could be distributed. There was a consensus that local community programs should retain scheduling priority. MacLean Hunter Cable TV suggested that a regular time block be reserved solely for the distribution of local programs and announcements.
Some submissions recommended that cable licensees be required to produce a minimum quota of local programs before being permitted to distribute non-community programs. The Conseil Populaire des Communications de l'Est du Québec Inc. proposed a comprehensive formula to create balance between local, regional and national programs of narrow, regional and general interest categories. The CCTA was in favour of the establishment of a specific time block for local programs, but was opposed to any plan which would require licensees to produce a minimum quota of community programs.
The Commission recognizes that many of the smaller systems have yet to begin actively programming their community channels, due to their limited channel capacity or financial resources. It also recognizes that these factors may continue to restrict the extent to which these systems are capable of providing local programming.
In order to encourage licensees of smaller systems across Canada to provide at least a minimum level of local service, the Commission has now determined that all cable television systems serving 3,000 subscribers or less will be permitted to distribute other programming, complementary to community programming on the community channel. The Commission expects that, given this flexibility, cable licensees will make every effort to offer a minimum level of local service, enhanced by the addition of other sources of programming.
Accordingly, subject to the provisions set out below, the following types of services may be distributed with local programs or announcements on the channel reserved for community programming on cable systems serving 3,000 subscribers or less:
community programs produced by other cable television licensees, government or public service information material, NFB productions, children's programs, educational programs not provided by the Provincial Education Authority, alpha-numeric services such as Broadcast News, the Question Period portions of the House of Commons or provincial legislatures, and multicultural programs.
The Commission recognizes the value of these complementary programming services and considers that Canadians residing in small towns and villages in all regions of the country should have access to them.
Cable television systems serving 3,000 subscribers or less will be permitted to distribute the above-mentioned services on the community channel, subject to the following provisions:
a) local community programs or announcements must be scheduled according to the wishes and needs of the community;
b) an adequate daily minimum time period must be reserved for the distribution of local programs or announcements;
c) all programming distributed on the community channel must be compatible, complementary and non-commercial;
d) the distribution of additional programming services must not impede the future development and growth of local programming;
e) no foreign service or signal may be distributed on the community channel without prior authorization.
Pending enactment of the proposed new Cable Television Regulations, licensees wishing to make use of the community channel for the distribution of such complementary programming will be required to apply to the Commission for appropriate amendments to their conditions of licence.
Community programming represents a unique and important opportunity for cable licensees to foster the exchange of ideas, raise issues of public concern, and cover events of local interest. By including a mix of attractive and compatible programming material from other sources, the Commission is confident that the community channel will continue to provide a meaningful and valuable contribution to community life.
The Commission will follow with interest the implementation of this new policy to assess its impact on local programming activity and on the broadcasting system as a whole.
Fernand Bélisle
Secretary General
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