ARCHIVED -  Public Notice CRTC 1992-21

This page has been archived on the Web

Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. Archived Decisions, Notices and Orders (DNOs) remain in effect except to the extent they are amended or reversed by the Commission, a court, or the government. The text of archived information has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Changes to DNOs are published as “dashes” to the original DNO number. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats by contacting us.

Public Notice
Ottawa, 12 March 1992
Public Notice CRTC 1992-21
In Decision CRTC 91-813 dated 23 October 1991, the Commission announced that it would undertake a full examination of its policies concerning the use of low-power frequencies. This public notice is the first step in this process; it explores the principal issues relating to the use of low-power radio, and poses specific questions for public comment.
1.Technical Classifications
Low-power undertakings, according to the rules of the Department of Communications (DOC), comprise the following:
Low-Power AM -- an LPAM is an undertaking with transmitter power of less than 100 watts. Each LPAM is licensed on a specific frequency in the 525 - 1705 kHz band, and at a specific transmitting site. LPAM undertakings are not protected against interference from regular, protected AM undertakings (this would mean that, in case of a frequency conflict between an LPAM and an existing or a newly approved regular, protected AM undertaking, the LPAM would have to change frequency or cease operation). LPAM undertakings are protected, however, against interference from each other on a first-come, first-served basis and from LPAS undertakings (defined below). This protection is based on the daytime 0.5 millivolt per metre (mV/m) contour which usually falls within a few kilometres (km) of the transmitter site, depending on the actual power, frequency and ground conductivity. The DOC does not publish an allotment plan for LPAM frequencies.
Low-Power FM -- an LPFM is an undertaking with maximum Effective Radiated Power (ERP) of 50 watts and transmitting antenna height of 60 metres. Each LPFM is licensed on a specific frequency in the 88 - 108 MHz band, and at a specific transmitting site. LPFM undertakings are not protected against interference from regular, protected FM undertakings. LPFM undertakings are protected, however, against interference from each other on a first-come, first-served basis and from VLPFM and LPAS undertakings (defined below). This protection is based on the 3 mV/m contour whose nominal distance from the transmitting site is 4 km. The DOC FM Allotment Plan includes licensed LPFM undertakings but not frequencies that might be available for LPFM use.
Very Low-Power FM -- a VLPFM is an undertaking operating with maximum ERP of 10 watts and transmitting antenna height of 30 metres. Each VLPFM is licensed on a specific frequency in the 88 - 108 MHz band, and at a specific transmitting site typically situated in a small remote community. VLPFM undertakings are not protected against interference from regular, protected FM undertakings or from LPFM undertakings. VLPFM undertakings are, however, protected against interference from each other on a first-come, first-served basis, and from LPAS undertakings (defined below). This protection is based on the 3 mV/m contour whose nominal distance from the transmitting site is 2 km. The DOC FM Allotment Plan includes existing VLPFM undertakings but not frequencies that might be available for VLPFM use.Low-Power Announcement Service -- an LPAS is an AM or FM undertaking with a very limited coverage area. In the case of AM (535 - 1605 kHz), transmitter power must be such that it does not produce a field strength level of more than 0.25 mV/m at a distance of 30 metres (note that the daytime protected contour of a regular, protected AM undertaking is 0.5 mV/m). In the case of FM (88 - 107.5 MHz), transmitter power must be such that it does not produce a field strength level of more than 0.1 mV/m at a distance of 30 metres (note that the protected contour of a regular, protected FM undertaking is 0.5 mV/m).
LPAS undertakings can be referred to as "30-metre coverage" undertakings. Operators of LPAS undertakings are not licensed to make use of specific frequencies or transmitting sites. Usually, the licensee operates a system of multiple transmitters at different transmitting sites in the community, using any frequency within the bands defined above. These undertakings can operate only as long as they do not cause interference to other broadcasting services. LPAS undertakings are not protected against interference from other broadcasting services, not even from other LPAS undertakings.
2. Types of undertakings licensed by the Commission
In the past, the Commission has issued licences for low-power undertakings for a variety of purposes:
a. Rebroadcasters: Retransmitters of licensed radio programming undertakings have been authorized either to improve service within the existing licensed coverage area of the parent undertaking, or to extend service to smaller outlying communities. Such retransmitters include Temporary Resource Development ("work Camp") Undertakings. These generally operate on LPAM or LPFM frequencies and rebroadcast, in its entirety, the programming of another licensed undertaking. They are on the air from a few months to a few years (until the termination of the logging, construction, or similar project) and are generally situated in remote areas where no other AM or FM radio broadcasting alternatives exist. In Public Notice CRTC 1992-5 of 17 January 1992, the Commission announced a proposal to exempt operators of this class of undertaking from the requirement to hold a licence.
There are approximately 400 licensed low-power rebroadcasters (including those of the CBC), of which 35 are partial and 363 are full rebroadcasters.
b. Community Radio: Most community radio undertakings operate in small, rural markets or remote areas; these are known as Type A Community undertakings. Type B undertakings, most of which operate in the province of Quebec, are found in markets where there are one or more conventional commercial broadcasters operating in the same language (for definitions of Type A and Type B Community undertakings, please refer to Public Notice CRTC 1985-194 -- "The Review of Community Radio"). Some exist in major metropolitan areas. There are currently 4 Type A and 3 Type B low-power community undertakings in small rural areas. There are also 16 licensed low-power community undertakings operating in remote areas. These 16 undertakings have the attributes of a Type B community undertaking, although they have not been licensed as such.
c. Native undertakings: Most are LPFM or VLPFM. There are currently 29 Type A and 10 Type B low-power native undertakings (for definitions of Type A and Type B native undertakings, please refer to Public Notice CRTC 1990-89 -- "Native Broadcasting Policy").
d. Ethnic undertakings: Only one low-power ethnic service was authorized by the Commission to date. In 1990, however, the Commission approved an amendment to its licence, increasing the effective radiated power of the undertaking to 250 watts and changing the class of channel it occupied to "Class A1 Protected".
e. Student undertakings: There are 11 low-power FM Student undertakings.
f. Special Events undertakings: These usually operate on low power, are on the air for a few days or weeks, either on an annual or sporadic basis, and are used to provide information to those attending a specific sports or social event.
As with Work Camp undertakings, the Commission has recently called for comments on its proposal to exempt operators of this class of undertaking from the requirement to hold a licence.
g. Travel/Traffic Information Services undertakings: These TIS undertakings generally operate on LPAM or LPFM frequencies. TIS undertakings, of which there are currently 12, are characterized by their broadcast of repetitive messages intended for travellers visiting tourist sites, parks, or airports, or to provide travel and weather advisories at specific locations. The vast majority of these undertakings is non-commercial.
h. Low-Power Announcement Service undertakings: These undertakings usually carry paid announcements pertaining to real-estate ("Talking Signs") or to tourist sites ("Heritage Messages"). There are currently 54 of these services.
As with Work Camp and Special Events undertakings, the Commission has proposed to exempt operators of this class from the requirement to hold a licence.
The Commission's main concern is that optimum use be made of the limited number of low-power, unprotected broadcasting frequencies.
In the past, the Commission has licensed low-power undertakings on a first-come, first-served basis. The Commission's policy, as noted in Decision CRTC 91-813, has been to ensure that the licensing of new undertakings not unduly jeopardize access to low-power frequencies by community, student, and native groups. In general, these more conventional broadcast programming services have been given priority over strictly one-dimensional services such as voice announcement services. This policy, however, has never been formalized or presented for public comment.
In the Commission's view, the growing use of low-power frequencies for new service applications requires a more comprehensive policy establishing priorities for their use, with a view to fulfilling the objectives of the Broadcasting Act (the Act).
While many of the requirements of the policy section of the Act, such as those calling for varied and comprehensive programming and a balanced expression of views, apply to the broadcasting system as a whole, the Commission has been of the view that the only way to achieve certain of the statutory policy objectives is to impose certain requirements at the level of the individual undertaking. Some of the services currently licensed, by their very nature, do not have the attributes of services provided by conventional commercial broadcasters or student, community, native and ethnic undertakings.
Any increase in the use of LPAM or LPFM frequencies by non-conventional services will bring about a corresponding reduction in the availability of these frequencies for potential use by broadcasting services whose programming would be more in accord with the objectives of the Act. On the other hand, in locations where there is a relative abundance of frequencies, there may be arguments for permitting their use for other, less conventional purposes rather than allowing them to remain unused.
The Commission seeks comments on the following questions related to the issue of service priority.
1. Should a system of priorities be devised as part of a licensing policy for low-power radio?
2. What should be its elements?
3.  In what order of importance should those elements be ranked?
The Commission has identified seven issues to be examined in formulating a system of policy priorities, or criteria, for the licensing of low-power radio undertakings. These are discussed below, but not necessarily in order of their relative importance. The Commission also emphasizes that this list may not be exhaustive, and that other issues may be identified for examination.
1. The Availability of
The fewer low-power frequencies that are available in any area, the greater the need for the Commission to ensure the best use of these frequencies.
While there is no allotment plan for low-power FM frequencies, there is a scarcity of such frequencies in most metropolitan areas, particularly those along the Windsor-Quebec City corridor, and on the lower B.C. mainland. The AM broadcast band is also approaching saturation in the more densely populated areas of Canada, leaving few opportunities for the use of low-power frequencies.
Demand for new radio frequencies -- whether regular or low-power -- in the AM and FM bands in Canada's more populated areas is estimated to be such that it would be imprudent for the Commission to license low-power services that would not provide a significant public service.
QUESTION 1: What should be the relative importance in a priority hierarchy of the availability of low-power frequencies in any area?
2. The Content
The principal question is whether (and to what degree) the service proposed will contribute to the attainment of the objectives of the Act.
Conventional programming undertakings would appear to come closest to meeting most, if not all, of the objectives in the Act relating to such matters as diversity, balance, enlightenment and entertainment. In the past, licences for most originating low-power undertakings have been issued to persons carrying on non-profit student, community and native undertakings. They have generally been licensed based on the perceived needs of a community or groups within a community to:
 (a) foster a sense of community, for instance, French-language community undertakings outside Quebec;
 (b) preserve and encourage the development of aboriginal cultures and languages;
 (c) provide special ethnic language programming not available on conventional mainstream radio; and
 (d) develop programming that is an alternative to mainstream commercial undertakings.
Other types of programming services, however, may also be in the public
interest or of interest to the public.
For instance, some services may enhance the enjoyment of those attending certain events, while others may be effective in promoting certain commercial activities. Some services may be desirable from the perspective of public safety, such as weather alert services in remote communities, or highway alert services to notify motorists of hazards, obstructions or delays. Other services, such as those providing information to motorists and tourists or those using airports, may be based more on an assumption by those providing the services of an interest or demand on the part of the public, and may thus be seen to appeal to convenience rather than respond to necessity.
Restricting the use of these frequencies may unduly inhibit the implementation of innovative, less-conventional service applications, particularly in locations where there is a relative abundance of frequencies.
QUESTION 2: a) What should be the relative importance of content among the elements in a priority hierarchy?
b) Should the various types of services (conventional, safety, traffic information, etc.) be ranked in order of public necessity and, if so, how?
The commercial messages contained in the programming of information services that make use of LPAM or LPFM frequencies may have an impact on conventional licensees: depending on the amount and type of advertising broadcast, these services may fragment the market. On the other hand, some of these services might draw on new sources of advertising revenues not currently available to conventional broadcasters.
The Commission must therefore determine the permissible type and amount of commercial activity on these undertakings. The demand for low-power frequencies would be reduced if LPAM and LPFM frequencies were reserved for use only by non-commercial services. Exceptions might be made for those operating LPAS undertakings (currently mostly for real estate announcements).
QUESTION 2: c) Which of the various types of undertakings should be allowed to provide commercial content? What types of commercial activity (conventional or sponsorship) should be permitted, and how much? Should there be a provision with respect to certain undertakings to ensure equitable opportunity for advertisers to have their messages broadcast?
3. The Correlation Between Power and Potential Audience
There has generally been a relationship between the power of an undertaking, that is to say the reach of an undertaking in terms of the size of its potential audience, and the scope and nature of the broadcast programming objectives it may be asked to fulfil. If a service reaches a relatively small area or neighbourhood, it is unreasonable to expect a licensee to provide a full conventional broadcasting service. On the other hand, the use of a 50-watt transmitter to serve as an amplifier for a travel/traffic information service may not represent optimum usage, particularly if there are competing demands for access to a limited number of frequencies by community, student and native groups. It might be possible for the Commission, in coordination with the DOC, to establish levels of transmitter power and the corresponding coverage areas for different types of undertakings; for instance, it could set certain content and other criteria for undertakings of less than 1 watt, others for undertakings from 1 to 5 watts, and yet others for those above 5 watts. However, any low-power undertaking (apart from LPAS undertakings) operating on a frequency, even at minimal power, may render that frequency unusable by any other operator in that area.
QUESTION 3: a) What should be the relative importance among the elements in a priority hierarchy of transmitter power or coverage area? b) What would be the appropriate power and coverage combination for each type of low-power undertaking?
4. The Duration of the Service
The number of days of the year, and the number of hours per day an undertaking is on the air would seem relevant in determining its priority status. An undertaking that offers 18 hours a day of service would generally appear to be making more efficient use of the frequency spectrum than one that is on the air for only two hours a day. On the other hand, a community undertaking that is on the air for only 6 hours per day could be said to provide a greater or more necessary service than a TIS undertaking operating 24 hours per day.
QUESTION 4: What should be the relative importance among the elements in a priority hierarchy of duration of service?
5. Alternative Means of Delivery
Several applications have been submitted for low-power frequencies that would appear to make use of them as billboards, electric signs or loudspeakers, delivering a very limited service to a very limited audience.
For some, the use of low-power frequencies for such purposes is attractive because of the availability of radio receivers in most automobiles. It may reasonably be questioned, however, whether it is appropriate to assign to such use, frequencies that have been set aside for the provision of services to the public, particularly if there are alternative ways in which the information or service can be provided.
QUESTION 5: What should be the relative importance in a priority hierarchy of the availability of alternative means of delivery?
6. The Application of Priority
Although unprotected low-power undertakings must change frequency or cease operation to make room for any new broadcast undertaking of a higher class on that same frequency, no low-power undertaking has yet been forced to shut down to allow another low-power undertaking to go on the air. Nor has the Commission had to decide the merits of two applications for the same low-power frequency in the same area at the same public hearing. To deal with such situations, the Commission could apply its service priorities through a condition of licence approach, so that an existing low-power undertaking with an overall lower priority would have to change frequencies or close down as soon as the new undertaking was ready to go on the air. While this might be the most efficient way of achieving the most effective use of these frequencies in the long term, it does not address the concerns attached to the potential disappearance of an established service.
An alternative would be for such service priority to be applied only at the time of licensing. Under such a regime, a licensed, low-power undertaking would not have to close down or shift frequencies for any other low-power undertaking, except perhaps in extraordinary cases. There is the possibility, however, that commercial, non-conventional users may be quicker to take up the low-power frequencies, particularly in urban areas, where there are few low-power frequencies to begin with, to the potential disadvantage of student, community, native, and ethnic groups.
A third possibility would be to apply the priority system for low-power radio at renewal time. This, in effect, would result in "competitive renewals" in certain cases. While such a plan may present difficulties, it would avoid the possibility of a low-power undertaking having to close down or change frequencies during its term, and would limit the concern attached to the alternative discussed in the preceding paragraph.
QUESTION 6: Should a priority system be applied at the time of the licensing decision, at the time of renewal, or at the time the undertaking with the higher priority goes on air?
7. The Need for a Call
The Commission currently does not issue a call in response to every low-power application it receives. The question arises as to whether it should.
One possibility might be for it to do so only in those areas where low-power frequencies are scarce, or where there is only a single frequency available. At the same time, given the nature of low-power frequencies, it may be difficult to determine whether any frequency is indeed the last available frequency.
To call for competitive applications in response to the receipt of an initial application for use of a low-power frequency would cause delays in the handling of such applications. On the other hand, the fact that the Commission would be dealing with what may be the last or one of the last remaining frequencies in an area, may warrant a more careful licensing process.
QUESTION 7a): Should the Commission issue a call for competing applications in the case of applications for low-power undertakings, and, if not generally, under what circumstances?
In Public Notice CRTC 1991-74 dated 23 July 1991 and entitled "Radio Market Policy", the Commission described the process and criteria it would use to determine whether markets could sustain new radio services.
QUESTION 7b): Should this process and these criteria be applied to low-power undertakings?
1. Low-Power Rebroadcasting Transmitters
The Commission has in the past dealt with applications to extend the coverage area of radio undertakings via low-power rebroadcasting transmitters. It has authorized use of many such rebroadcasters by the CBC, and several by private commercial undertakings.
QUESTION 8: Should the Commission continue to consider applications for the use of low-power transmitters to rebroadcast the programming of existing undertakings? Under what circumstances should it do so, for instance, in cases where technical problems limit coverage within an undertaking's licensed service area?
2. Applications for a Group of Low-Power Frequencies for Non-Conventional Use
One application recently considered by the Commission contemplated the use of several low-power frequencies for non-conventional use. The economic viability of such proposals may depend on one or more transmitters in key areas. In competitive circumstances, the Commission may then have to decide whether an applicant proposing use of the last available frequency at a community for the broadcast of a more conventional service has greater claim to that frequency than one proposing use of that and several other frequencies to offer a less conventional service to a number of communities.
QUESTION 9: How could the relative merits of the types of proposals described above be assessed in a priority system?
3. Competitive Non-Conventional Services
Although the composition of the local population would have to be taken into account, the Commission sees no need to limit the number of low-power frequencies that may be devoted to any particular type of conventional service, such as ethnic or native radio, in any one community, particularly in urban areas.
The Commission could either take a similar approach to non-conventional services, or place restrictions on such services so as to keep as many frequencies as possible available for conventional uses.
QUESTION 10: Should the Commission's licensing policy for low-power radio preclude the licensing of competitive, non-conventional services?
4. The Use of the Extended AM Band for Certain Types of Services?
Potential licensees might wish to apply for one or more of the approximately 115-125 potential AM frequencies available for Canadian use under the new Canada-US AM Broadcast bilateral agreement, which extended the AM band to 1705 kHz. Although the limited number of radios capable of receiving these frequencies may limit their attractiveness to broadcasters at this time, highly targeted programming might be an inducement for people to buy the new expanded receivers.
QUESTION 11: To what extent might some of the services currently being contemplated for low-power undertakings be accommodated on the newly extended upper portion of the AM band?
5. The Regulation of
Low-Power Radio
The Radio Regulations, 1986 (the regulations) contain requirements, including those relating to Canadian content in music and the maintenance of program logs and logger tapes, that may not be relevant to the various types of non-conventional low-power undertakings discussed above.
At the same time, it may be necessary to ensure that those authorized to use low-power frequencies for the broadcast of non-conventional programming not alter their services, for instance, through the introduction of programming elements usually found in conventional competitive, commercial programming services.
QUESTION 12: To what extent should the provisions of the regulations be applicable to the various types of low-power programming undertakings? To what extent should such low-power undertakings be required to comply with a Promise of Performance?
The Commission invites public comment with respect to the matters raised by the questions set out above or to any other questions that may be relevant. Submissions should be addressed to the Secretary General, CRTC, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0N2 and received by the Commission on or before 12 June 1992.
The Commission notes that, until the completion of a policy review, it will not generally be disposed to consider applications proposing the use of low-power radio frequencies for the broadcast of commercial content programming, except applications pertaining to community radio undertakings (Type A, Type B or native), campus radio undertakings, full rebroadcasters of commercial stations, and Special Events undertakings. Nor will the Commission generally be prepared to consider applications proposing the use of low-power frequencies, for whatever purpose, in areas where there is a scarcity of such frequencies.
Allan J. Darling
Secretary General

Date modified: