Five points raised by FRPC
- The Consultation notice states that over-the-air TV spectrum should be re-assigned to mobile services because data usage is growing, while the number of new OTA TV stations in recent years has been flat, with the implication that there is limited or no demand for new OTA TV station licences. FRPC’s analysis of CRTC TV licensing decisions from 2000 to 2012 found that there were two applicants for every OTA TV station licence that was issued: growth in TV stations is flat – due to CRTC licensing decisions – but demand for TV stations is not. Industry Canada’s freeze on OTA TV certificates will limit ownership diversity in, and growth of, the conventional TV sector – negative outcomes that suggest that the Department’s decision was made for arbitrary reasons, not reasons that serve the public interest.
- If no spectrum is set aside to permit new entrants to launch conventional TV stations, the potential for increased competition and diversity will be eliminated unless the CRTC reconsiders its current licence renewal approach, in which incumbents are renewed regardless of the degree to which they met past commitments/obligations. The CRTC should make the existing spectrum licensed to current over-the-air TV licences available when these licences expire, if those licensees have breach their programming commitments. This approach would shift responsibility for regulatory enforcement to the market: those who want to use the spectrum licensed to others, would monitor the licensees’ performance and report non-compliance to the CRTC. Therefore, when it renews private conventional TV stations in mid-2016, the CRTC should state clear and measureable programming objectives for their licensees: if these are not met, new applicants should be permitted to apply to use those licences when they expire. A competitive renewal process is a reasonable substitute for policy-driven spectrum scarcity.
- FRPC notes that the recent analog-to-digital transition was marked by confusion and uncertainty about responsibilities for notifying the public affected by the transition. FRPC urges Industry Canada to ensure that its plans include details about the manner in which the public will be notified about the changes required by the 600 MHz changes. These details should identify the parties responsible for notification, the timelines for notification, the government agencies responsible for supervising the notification process, penalties for non-compliance, and reporting of the actions take by the responsible parties. If required, funding should be provided to non-profit groups operating television undertakings to support their notification requirements.
- Insofar as timing is concerned, and while FRPC recognizes the importance of coordinating spectrum usage with the United States, these issues were known to the Department well before the CRTC announced its TV proceeding. The Department should have issued this Consultation notice either before the CRTC sought comments about the future of Canada’s television system – to give the public the benefit of the Department’s expertise, or after the Commission published its determinations – to take the CRTC’s new policy into account.
- FRPC is also concerned that the Department has offered no estimates of the number of people in Canada who will lose over-the-air TV service; this evidence should be provided independently by the department, as estimates from broadcasters that also own or want the chance to own very profitable wireless service spectrum may not be entirely reliable. Public interest groups lack the resources to obtain such evidence, and in any event the 5.5 weeks originally granted for the consultation were inadequate to collect it.
- Finally, it is perplexing that these issues were not raised by the Department in the context of the CRTC’s two-year public proceeding on television policy. Going forward the Department should work collaboratively with the independent agency entrusted by Parliament with responsibility for implementing its broadcasting and telecommunications policies, to use public resources more efficiently.