CRTC must rein in cablers, says APTN boss

APTN CEO Jean LaRose says the recent CRTC decision to penalize Shaw Cablesystems with a two-year licence renewal will do little to solve his channel’s long-running issues with the cableco.

The Commission, he adds, should invoke regulations to protect small broadcasters like APTN from being bullied by big BDUs.

‘The Commission has to make some of these calls and impose minimum regulations on BDUs, distasteful as it may be, to protect smaller entities such as APTN or we will be unable to meet our conditions of license,’ says LaRose, whose key issues with Shaw include frequent channel reassignment higher on the dial and carriage of their western feed.

Last month the CRTC renewed Shaw’s operating license for just two years instead of the standard seven-year term — one of the strictest penalties the regulator could impose short of revoking Shaw’s license — because of repeated non-compliance of several regulations, including relocating channels to other spots on the dial without providing 60 days notice; and putting too many commercial messages on its community channels which have strict advertising limitations.

During the two-year probationary period, Shaw must file monthly reports showing its compliance with the rules.

The federal regulator also noted numerous complaints from the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and Canwest, among others, relating to the breach of simultaneous substitution rules and a lack of weather warning on its cable feed, as well as other issues.

APTN’s two long-running issues with Shaw are both areas in which the CRTC has refused to set any rules on BDUs. The Commission does not impose channel placement and, since a western feed is not in APTN’s conditions of license, Shaw is not required to distribute it.

In its broadcasting decision on Shaw’s renewal, the Commission has asked the two parties to negotiate and come to a solution.

However, LaRose says APTN is having difficulty meeting its conditions of license due to these problems and discussions with Shaw are at an impasse.

Calls to Shaw for comment on this story were not returned.

LaRose says in some markets Shaw has reassigned APTN on the dial three or four times in the past three years, causing confusion for viewers. Further, Shaw is moving the channel higher on the dial to the point that many members of the Aboriginal community with older sets can no longer access the channel.

In eastern Canada, Rogers has agreed to keep APTN at channel 70 to solve this problem.

‘The CRTC has always refused to deal with channel placement, but we feel it is something they need to get involved with,’ says LaRose. ‘If we are a must-carry channel and viewed as a valuable service under the Broadcasting Act, how can we meet that objective if no one knows we exist or we are placed somewhere where no one can find us?’

He points out the irony that, at its last license renewal, the CRTC granted APTN a fee increase in order to market the channel better to its audience.

‘We are trying to do that, but because we are being bumped all over the map, we are spending money on marketing to no useful purpose,’ says LaRose.

APTN has spent one million dollars in upgrades in order to set up a western feed to provide regional programming in primetime that would reflect the different Aboriginal languages and culture in the Western provinces. Shaw put the feed up in some 30 markets, according to LaRose, but then took it down when audiences complained because some western cities were getting the feed and others were not, causing confusion.

Now Shaw is asking for APTN to pay an unknown amount of money to upgrade the cableco’s hardware before putting up the feed.

LaRose wants to know exactly what he is paying for and why — an answer he says he can’t get from Shaw.

Regarding APTN’s ongoing attempts to negotiate with Shaw, Michel Arpin, vice-chairman of broadcasting at the CRTC, says ‘this is something we hear often.’

‘It was raised during proceedings for the BDU Review last April. There have been a lot of complaints about the gatekeeping role of BDUs, and it is something the Commission will be addressing in the upcoming policy announcement we will make in a couple months,’ says Arpin. ‘We hope we will be able to clarify the relationship [between networks and BDUs].’