ARCHIVED - Public Notice CRTC 2000-38

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Public Notice CRTC 2000-38

See also: 2000-38-1

Ottawa, 10 March 2000

Increasing the availability of minority official language specialty services to cable subscribers across Canada - Call for comments on a proposed policy


Section 3(1)(k) of the Broadcasting Act (the Act) states that "a range of broadcasting services in English and in French shall be extended to all Canadians as resources become available". The Commission notes that, in the past, the ability of cable distributors to expand the number of services they offer to subscribers has been constrained by the costs of upgrading the channel capacity of their analogue-based distribution systems. Increasing numbers of cable licensees, however, are expanding their available channel capacity through the introduction of digital distribution technology.


In this notice, the Commission invites public comment on a proposed policy whereby the expanded channel capacity made possible by digital distribution technology would be used to ensure that a minimum number of minority official language specialty services is offered to cable subscribers in all regions of the country. The proposed policy emerges from the Commission's consideration of comments received in response to several questions and possible policy alternatives advanced in Public Notice CRTC 1999-74 (Review of the access rules for Canadian pay and specialty services in bilingual markets – Call for comments).


The Commission notes in this regard that increasing the range of French- and English-language services available to Canadian cable subscribers was also the central objective of the public process undertaken in PN 1999-74. Although the title of that earlier public notice referred to "services in bilingual markets", there was no consensus among the comments received regarding how a bilingual market should be defined. Moreover, it became apparent to the Commission through its deliberations that the use of the term "bilingual market" did not capture the basic objective of ensuring that a minimum number of minority official language specialty services are offered in markets where individuals of one official language or another form a minority. The Commission, however, continues to encourage distributors to achieve the ultimate objective of offering the full range of licensed English- and French-language services as part of the digital offering.


The proposed policy and the intended mechanics of its implementation are predicated on the roll-out of digital distribution technology now taking place in the cable distribution industry. This technology, and the increased channel capacity it creates, present the means to enhance the diversity of programming available to cable subscribers, including those interested in receiving programming in the minority official language. The introduction of digital distribution technology thus offers the Commission a timely opportunity, through its proposed policy, to achieve the objective set out in section 3(1)(k) of the Act.


Under the proposed policy, requirements for the distribution of a minimum number of specialty services in the minority official language would be imposed on the licensees of Class 1 and Class 2 cable distribution undertakings who distribute services on a digital basis, and whose markets match the demographic criteria described elsewhere below. As discussed later in this notice, the proposed policy would reserve for the Commission sufficient flexibility in applying the requirements to take into account the particular circumstances of individual cable distribution licensees.


The policy’s focus on cable, rather than on other means of distribution, takes a number of considerations into account. First, although the Commission acknowledges that cable operators across Canada offer their subscribers a large number of specialty television services, the number of minority official language specialty services made available is often limited. This tends to be the case most particularly in communities where the majority official language is English. The Commission also notes that, in the case of direct-to-home (DTH) distributors, the application of its proposed policy would be largely redundant, since they are already required by the regulations to distribute all licensed specialty services in English and in French "to the extent of available channels". In the case of multipoint distribution systems (MDS), the Commission considers that their relatively limited channel capacity warrants special consideration. It therefore proposes to deal with any concerns regarding the number of minority official language specialty services that are distributed on an MDS undertaking at the time of licensing or licence renewal.


The Commission acknowledges that there are some Class 3 cable licensees who are deploying digital capacity, and whose licensed areas include significant numbers of people having a knowledge of the minority official language. The Commission notes, however, that these licensees generally serve smaller communities, and consequently have less stringent regulatory obligations than larger distribution undertakings. For these reasons, the Commission considers that imposition of the proposed requirements on these licensees would be inappropriate. It nevertheless encourages Class 3 licensees, as it does those Class 1 and Class 2 licensees who continue to make exclusive use of analogue distribution technology, to expand as much as possible the range of French- and English-language specialty services offered to subscribers.


One of the questions asked by the Commission in PN 1999-74 concerned what would constitute an adequate "range" of services, as that term is used in section 3(1)(k) of the Act. The suggestions contained in responses to this question covered a broad range. Views were that an adequate number of minority official language services might be as few as five or as many as fifteen.


The Commission's proposal would ensure that a certain proportion of a cable licensee's service offering consists of minority official language specialty services. The Commission projects that, under its proposed policy, approximately seven or eight minority official language specialty services would have to be distributed in most markets. The Commission considers that this number should be sufficient to enable cable distributors to offer attractive packages of such services in a digital environment.


The Commission has given considerable thought to the demographic criteria or benchmarks that would be appropriate for use in determining the markets to which the policy requirements would apply. For the purpose of the proposed policy requirements, the Commission considers that the use of criteria that are based on the percentage or proportion of those in the market having a knowledge of the minority official language (as provided by Statistics Canada) may be more appropriate than a test based simply on the number or proportion of those having that language as their mother tongue. A benchmark based on knowledge of the minority official language may more accurately gauge the potential audience and demand for programming in that language. The Commission notes that, in its comments filed to PN 1999-74, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages agreed that use of this statistic would help take into account the rapid growth of bilingualism in Canadian society.


At the same time, the Commission is mindful of the range of opinions expressed in comments received in response to PN 1999-74 regarding how a bilingual market should be defined. For this reason, the Commission invites comments specifically addressed to the question of what would constitute the most appropriate demographic criteria for use in identifying those markets in which the policy requirements would apply. The proposed requirements are explained in detail in the following section.
Proposed policy requirements


The requirements of the proposed policy would apply to the licensee of a Class 1 or Class 2 cable distribution undertaking:

• who uses digital distribution technology to deliver programming services to subscribers; and

• whose licensed area is in a market where the number of people having a knowledge of the minority official language amounts to at least 5,000 or 10% of the market’s total population.


For the purpose of this requirement, a market would be taken to encompass the broader community within which the distribution undertaking operates. More specifically, a market in respect of any Class 1 or Class 2 cable distribution undertaking would be defined as consisting of the total population of all cities, towns and municipalities encompassed in whole or in part within the licensed area of the licensee. The Commission notes that this territorial approach to defining a market is the same as that used in sections 18(4)(a) and 18(5)(c)(ii) of the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations (the regulations). A market’s population, and the number or proportion of people within it having a knowledge of the minority official language, would be determined on the basis of the most recent population figures published by Statistics Canada.


A cable licensee to whom the policy requirements apply would be obliged to distribute a minimum number of specialty services that are licensed to operate in the minority official language. Specifically, except as qualified below, for every ten majority official language programming services that are distributed on the undertaking (both Canadian and non-Canadian), at least one minority official language specialty service would also have to be distributed.


Each licensed minority official language programming service that is distributed by a licensee would be recognized as one service for the purpose of fulfilling the requirement for the distribution of a minimum number of minority official language specialty services. These services would include specialty services, discretionary services, and the services of optional conventional television stations that are carried, but would exclude those programming services that must be distributed pursuant to section 17 of the regulations or section 9 of the Act. In short, the programming services identified in this paragraph could be used as a credit towards meeting the requirements.


Further, in calculating the number of programming services, all special programming services and exempt services would be excluded. Pay, pay-per-view and video-on-demand services operating in either official language would each count as a single service, as would any other French- or English-language programming service that might be distributed by a licensee on more than one analogue or digital channel.


Where particular circumstances warrant, especially in the case of systems whose conversion to digital technology is not as advanced as it is in other systems, the Commission would be prepared to grant relief from the above requirements upon application by a licensee. Such relief might also be granted in cases where it can be demonstrated that the demographic characteristics of an undertaking's licensed area differ significantly from those of the market in which the undertaking operates. In such cases, the Commission would expect the licensee to indicate in its application how it would otherwise serve those of its subscribers having a knowledge of the minority official language.
Other matters


As indicated earlier, of particular concern to the Commission is the relatively limited range of minority official language specialty services available to those having a knowledge of French, but who reside in markets where English is the majority official language.


The Commission considers that it would be contrary to the objectives of its proposed policy if cable operators serving communities in which the official majority language is English were permitted to move existing French-language services from analogue to digital channels as a means to preserve analogue capacity for English-language services. In the Commission’s view, subscribers who currently value and benefit from these services should continue to have access to them.


Accordingly, the Commission intends to impose a requirement on the licensees of all Class 1 and Class 2 cable distribution undertakings operating in anglophone markets, as that term is described in section 18 of the regulations. Specifically, the Commission intends to require all such licensees to ensure that the number of French-language services distributed on analogue channels, as of the date of this notice, is not reduced. The Commission emphasizes that this requirement would apply only to the number of French-language services, and not to what the actual services are. This requirement would apply regardless of whether or not the licensees have commenced the transition from analogue to digital distribution.


The Commission notes that there are Class 1 and Class 2 cable licensees whose licensed areas are in markets in which the number of people having a knowledge of the minority official language exceeds one or other of the benchmarks proposed above. In such cases, the Commission would expect licensees to respond to the needs of these residents by offering them a greater range of services than the minimum number that might otherwise be required under the policy.


The Commission will announce its final policy on these matters following its consideration of comments received in response to this notice. The Commission proposes to implement its policy through amendments to the regulations that would be announced at that time or shortly thereafter. It expects that the further public process associated with consideration of the proposed regulatory amendments would be completed in time to enable the amendments to come into force in the spring of 2001.
Call for comments


The Commission invites written comments that address the issues and questions set out in this notice. The Commission will accept comments that it receives on or before 10 May 2000.


The Commission will not formally acknowledge written comments. It will, however, fully consider all comments and they will form part of the public record of the proceeding, provided that the procedures for filing set out below have been followed.
Procedures for filing comments


Interested parties can file their comments on paper or electronically. Submissions longer than five pages should include a summary.


The "hard copy" should be sent to the Secretary General, CRTC, Ottawa, K1A 0N2.


Parties wishing to file electronic versions of their comments can do so by eMail or on diskette. The Commission eMail address is


Electronic submissions should be in the HTML format. As an alternative, those making submissions may use "Microsoft Word" for text and "Microsoft Excel" for spreadsheets.


Please number each paragraph of the comment. In addition, please enter the line ***End of Document*** following the last paragraph. This will help the Commission verify that the document has not been damaged during transmission.


The Commission will make comments filed in electronic form available on its web site at in the official language and format in which they are submitted. This will make it easier for members of the public to consult the documents.
Examination of public comments and related documents at the following Commission offices during normal business hours
Central Building
Les Terrasses de la Chaudière
1 Promenade du Portage, Room G-5
Hull, Quebec K1A ON2
Tel: (819) 997-2429 - TDD: 994-0423
FAX: (819) 994-0218
Bank of Commerce Building
1809 Barrington Street
Suite 1007
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 3K8
Tel: (902) 426-7997 - TDD: 426-6997
FAX: (902) 426-2721
405 de Maisonneuve Blvd. East
2nd Floor, Suite B2300
Montréal, Quebec H2L 4J5
Tel: (514) 283-6607 - TDD: 283-8316
FAX: (514) 283-3689
55 St. Clair Avenue East
Suite 624
Toronto, Ontario M4T 1M2
Tel: (416) 952-9096
FAX: (416) 954-6343
Kensington Building
275 Portage Avenue
Suite 1810
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 2B3
Tel: (204) 983-6306 - TDD: 983-8274
FAX: (204) 983-6317
Cornwall Professional Building
2125 - 11th Avenue
Room 103
Regina, Saskatchewan S4P 3X3
Tel: (306) 780-3422
FAX: (306) 780-3319
Scotia Place Tower Two
19th Floor, Suite 1909
10060 Jasper Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta T5J 3R8
Tel: (780) 495-3224
FAX: (780) 495-3214
530-580 Hornby Street
Vancouver, British Columbia V6C 3B6
Tel: (604) 666-2111 - TDD: 666-0778
FAX: (604) 666-8322
Secretary General
This notice is available in alternative format upon request, and may also be viewed at the following Internet site:
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