ARCHIVED -  Public Notice CRTC 1988-33

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Public Notice

Ottawa, 2 March 1988
Public Notice CRTC 1988-33
Services using the Vertical Blanking Interval (Television) or Subsidiary Communications Multiplex Operation (FM)
Proposed Amendment to Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987
Proposed Amendment to Radio Regulations, 1986.
In Public Notice CRTC 1984-117, the Commission outlined its policy objectives and regulatory approach for services using the Vertical Blanking Interval (VBI) of television stations and the Subsidiary Communications Multiplex Operation (SCMO) channel of FM stations.
The notice contained a number of guidelines to which licensees authorized to distribute VBI/SCMO services were expected to adhere. They were also required to file reports detailing their experiences in developing these services by 31 December 1986. The notice indicated that the Commission would review its regulatory approach at the completion of this initial phase and make whatever changes were appropriate at that time. The present Public Notice, which is the result of that review, comprises the second phase of the regulatory process described in Public Notice CRTC 1984-117.
A Review of VBI/SCMO Services to Date
After reviewing the development of these services during phase 1, the Commission has determined that FM licensees, in particular, are using their SCMO channels for a variety of purposes.
During the assessment period, approximately one-third of the licensees who utilized SCMO provided a background music service, confirming that one of the earliest uses of the SCMO channel continues to be popular.
The fastest growing use of SCMO appears to be that of distributing data. A number of FM broadcasters have been experimenting in this area and are reporting encouraging results. About one-third of the SCMO users fall into this category.
Two FM licensees reported using their SCMO capability to provide more conventional broadcasting services to the public: one providing a talking book service for the blind; the other, a service in the Greek language.
The remaining SCMO users utilized their facility to support the operation of their FM stations for program or news feeds, back-up program feeds, and for technological purposes.
With respect to the use of VBI by television stations, the predominant use reported was that of providing captions for the hearing impaired. While most licensees did not have the capability of generating the captions themselves, they have been purchasing captioned versions whenever possible.
Some respondents indicated that decoders for captions were in short supply and that this had impeded the growth of this service.
The amount of captioned program material broadcast in a given week ranged from a low of approximately 5 hours by one station to a high by some of over 20 hours during some weeks. The CTV network itself currently schedules a minimum of about 13 hours of captioned programs per week. A CBC affiliate reported receiving 10-15 hours per week of captioned material from the CBC network.
It should be noted that the Commission expects that the CBC network will provide a minimum of 15 hours of captioned programming per week, averaged annually.
The most significant other non-technical use of the VBI was project IRIS, a joint CBC/Department of Communications experiment. This major project which has since been terminated, demonstrated the feasibility of providing a teletext service in the VBI, using Telidon technology. The objectives of the trial were first to obtain a reaction from the public to the service and second to provide the stimulus for developing an industry which could supply the goods and services for other teletext systems, both at home and abroad. The CBC reports that both objectives were met.
Those licensees who elected to comment on the Commission's regulatory approach during phase 1 were generally supportive and some went so far as to suggest that a similar approach should be followed in the future.
Policy on VBI/SCMO
When the two-phase approach to VBI/SCMO was published in 1984, the Commission was in the process of re-examining its own role in the regulatory process. Since 1986, the Commission has placed more emphasis on its role as a supervisor of the broadcasting system. Public Notices CRTC 1986-182, CRTC 1986-248 and CRTC 1987-8 concerning the regulations with regard to cable, radio and television, respectively, reflect this emphasis. In the first two of these public notices, the Commission made provision for and declared its policy on Multichannel Television Sound (MTS).
The Commission notes that there are a number of similarities between the Second Audio Program (SAP) and Multiplex channels of MTS and the SCMO of FM and has concluded that, to the extent possible, the regulatory approaches should be similar.
The Commission has carefully considered the reports submitted, together with other events that have taken place since Public Notice CRTC 1984-117 was published and has determined to lessen its regulatory approach with respect to VBI/SCMO. Accordingly, it is proposed herein that the Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987 and the Radio Regulations, 1986 be amended. When these proposed amendments are in place, the regulations will no longer apply to programming broadcast via VBI and SCMO and licensees will not, therefore, have to apply to the Commission for authority to provide such services.
Licensees broadcasting programming via VBI/SCMO are, of course, required to meet all of the requirements of the Broadcasting Act. In addition, Appendix I contains guidelines to which licensees will be expected to adhere after the following proposed amendments to the regulations are in place. It may be noted that the guidelines do not require licensees to apply to the Commission for authority to broadcast programming via VBI or SCMO.
Proposed Amendments to Regulations
Pursuant to paragraph 16(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act, the Commission proposes for public comment, amendments to the Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987 and to the Radio Regulations, 1986, as set out in Appendices II and III to this notice. When these proposed amendments are in place, the regulations would no longer apply to programming broadcast via VBI and SCMO. The Commission invites public comment on these proposed amendments by 15 April 1988.
Fernand Bélisle Secretary General
Guidelines regarding the provision of VBI/SCMO Services
1) Broadcasters have a primary responsibility to fulfill the commitments made with respect to the main service they are licensed to provide. Any use of the VBI/SCMO must not detract from the licensee's ability to meet all of its responsibilities, and to fulfill its Promise of Performance.
2) Licensees adding or modifying VBI/SCMO services must inform the Commission of the types of services to be provided. The Commission expects that licensees will provide this information by letter as required.
3) Captions for the hearing impaired should be given a high priority; line 21 of the VBI must be reserved for this purpose.
4) While the Commission does not intend to limit the types of VBI/SCMO services at this time, it would be concerned if long term commitments for the provision of services that are unrelated to the licensee's primary programming service were to place any constraints on broadcasters'ability to respond to future programming needs.
5) Cable television licensees shall not curtail or alter VBI/SCMO services; if the carriage of these services causes undue technical interference to the programming on a main channel, the Commission may, upon consideration, exempt the cable licensee from this obligation by condition of licence.
6) Revenues may be derived through advertising or subscription fees for VBI/SCMO services, as appropriate.
7) Separate financial records should be kept for each VBI/SCMO service and should be made available to the Commission on request.
8) Revenues from the licensee's main programming service may not be used to subsidize VBI/SCMO services that are unrelated to the licensee's primary programming services, unless prior approval is obtained from the Commission.
9) Where appropriate and where capacity is available, licensees are encouraged to provide access to third parties on a mutually agreed basis.
10) Technical quality on the main television or FM channels should not be impaired by the use of VBI/SCMO.
11) Although no regulatory requirements are being imposed for the provision of VBI/SCMO services at this time, the Commission would be concerned if any such service would cause undue negative impact on existing local broadcasting services. In light of this, the Commission will be monitoring the development of such services and may make appropriate adjustments, if required.

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