Community Channels “Abused” by Cable Companies

by Jordan Richardson on April 8, 2010

It is an interesting time for Canadian telecom consumers.

The cable companies are seemingly always at war against the CRTC, for instance, and the phone companies are buying up new territory and trying to box out the ostensible competition. As consumers, we’re constantly being told that things are getting better on the Canadian telecommunications landscape and that we should be patient because, like a superhero flying over the Rocky Mountains with discounted services in his hands, competition is “on the way.”

One of the more compelling arenas in which all of this action is taking place is with the way Canada’s telecommunications giants are handling community television channels.

According to audits conducted by the CRTC from 2002 to 2005, the last year that they performed such audits, various “abuses” were uncovered. Furthermore, out of the 13 systems audited, 11 of them could not be completely evaluated due to inconsistencies between logs and tapes, lost tapes, and malfunctions.

The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) says that Canada’s community channels have become little more than promotional tools for the cable companies.

“Canadians should know that cable companies collected more than $120 million from them last year so that they could have an entry point into their own broadcasting system, but very little of that money is being spent on training or access,” says Catherine Edwards, spokesperson for CACTUS.

According to data from the audits, Rogers “routinely” exceeded the maximum of promo ads allowed, often by as much as seven minutes. Another example points to the program “On Line with Rogers,” which the CRTC described as “similar to an hour long promo of their services.”

CACTUS has posted complete summaries of the audits here. You can also obtain copies of the audits through an Access to Information request.

One of the more convincing proposals from CACTUS regarding this issue is that the money collected by cable companies intended for community access television be “redirected” to a new fund that would allow over 200 Canadian communities to run multimedia training and distribution centres of their own rather than relying on the futile experiments that are community television networks.

This round of information, coupled with CTVglobemedia VP of Corporate Affairs Paul Sparkes’ cutting critique of Rogers’ Phil Lind’s recent piece in the Toronto Sun, certainly doesn’t appear to win many public relations points for the cable companies or the telecommunications giants.

Further to these points, the notion that the plunder from these and sundry issues must be somehow passed down to the consumers if the big giants aren’t saved the yoke of additional taxation is, as you might imagine, exceedingly odious.

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