My submission to the CRTC Re: Local TV Matters

I took the form at as well as the CRTC form and sent the following intervention. The topic was the connections between convergence and the future of television, including local television. (See also: Michael Geist)

Secretary General
Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0N2

Dear Secretary General,

RE: Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2009-614

Please accept the following comments in response to the above-referenced Notice of Consultation.

The issue of local television is one piece of the puzzle. We have convergence in various communications services, but still regulate in separate silos with broadcasting and broadcast undertakings considered separate from telecommunications. The recent CRTC 2009-657 decision on Internet service providers (ISPs) in their use of Internet traffic management and the question of local television are related. The CRTC must spend some time to break down these silos within its own structure, in order to meet its emerging mandate.

It should be noted that both the cable companies and the broadcast networks provide local programming. While the broadcast networks suggest they are the sole suppliers for local programming, their local stations are dominated by national or foreign programming with only a few news casts, other shows and advertisements having local content. The cable community access stations are far more local, and include volunteers from the community with more amateur programming. Both of these more traditional modes of local programming now must compete with even cheaper online alternatives. We should not allow the incumbent television or cable companies to claim they provide the only local programming, while each have been known to oppose (in network management, in lobbying rhetoric, etc) truly local programming available online.

I do not believe the historical deal between local television stations and the cable companies can be changed only in one respect without sacrificing the entire deal. The deal presumed that television was paid for by advertisers, and that allowing cable companies free retransmission in exchange for mandatory carriage was in the best interests of both parties. If retransmission is no longer be free, it should be obvious that mandatory carriage will not continue. This will mean the concept of basic cable will cease to exist, and consumers will demand to be able to choose individually which stations to pay for. It appears that the broadcasters are incorrectly assuming that mandatory carriage will continue at the same time that they get fee for carriage of these mandatory stations.

Many local stations are taking the high penetration of cable and satellite in Canada as an excuse not to upgrade all their analog transmitters to digital as part of that transition. As they push for fee for carriage they seem unaware that this will backfire, with the local digital transmitter likely being the only way for a local station to reach local audiences once these local stations are no longer mandatory as part of the basic cable and satellite packages.

While not a solution for wireless communication (whether digital television, satellite, or cellular networks), I have offered a solution to many of the growing pains associated with convergence in wired communications. The solution comes from treating the municipal area network (wires/fiber/etc into and between homes and businesses within a municipality) as a utility in the same way we handle other municipal utilities (electricity, water, etc). The model that the previous Ontario Conservative government instituted for electricity is ideal for communications, separating municipal distribution from "generation" or other services.

Municipal distribution is a natural monopoly. It is not reasonable to allow or require every competing company to lay cabling above and below private and public land. This basic connectivity should be provided by a utility which is then not allowed to provide services beyond that utility service, and thus not allowed to compete in any of the markets that build upon this network.

Services would then be offered by all sectors upon this utility. These services would be highly competitive, and thus require less regulation beyond transparency. Services would include access to broadcast networks, where these networks would provide streaming services directly from their own facilities within each municipality to customers. I provide more details of this option in an earlier article:

How local TV could really matter: end of antiquated phone and cable companies

Services would also include voice communication, replacing traditional monopoly phone companies with highly competitive voice providers.

Services would include truly competitive Internet Service Providers. The Network Neutrality debate primarily follows from providers of "last mile" connectivity leveraging this natural monopoly to impose management practices on consumers who have no realistic option of switching to a competitor. In North America the primary providers of this "last mile" are incumbent phone and cable companies. These are two types of companies that are prone to "The Innovator's Dilemma" and see key aspects of IP convergence as a threat to their existing businesses, and thus are the least likely to make honest investments in future networks. I do not consider incumbent phone or cable companies to be ISPs even when they offer ISP-like services given they see ISPs as competitors. If this "last mile" were unbundled into a separate utility, these competitive problems with the pre-convergence incumbents would cease to exist.

When citizens in a municipality can communicate directly to each other over this communications utility, without any redundant intermediary, we will also see the growth of truly local "television" offered by and for the community at minimal cost.

Consumers should be able to "vote with their feet" for streaming video (Television), voice (phone) and data (Internet) as easily as it is today to sign a subscription agreement and change the channel.

Yours sincerely,

Russell McOrmond
Full contact information:

Your reference number for this intervention is # 120635