CRTC primed to OK digital TV services

Regulator taking applications

MONTREAL — After several delays, regulator Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is finally set to kick off the process to greenlight a slew of specialty TV services.

The CRTC has announced the guidelines and framework for the first set of channels to be launched on digital cable and satellite systems.

The regulator is open for applications, public hearings will be held this summer, the CRTC decision will be unveiled at the end of the year and the new channels should be up and running in the first half of 2001.

By going the all-digital route, the CRTC commissioners essentially have endorsed the position of the big cable companies in the country that there is simply no room left on the analog system for new channels. The catch is that the same cable operators have been slow to roll out digital cable and only roughly 1 million Canadian households have digital cable at the moment.

Digital drive

The ruling is designed to help push the cable companies to offer digital services. Also, the rules governing the new digital channels are considerably less stringent than the regulations for the analog channels.

“This new framework aims to bridge the changeover from the traditional analog world to the more open-entry, competitive world of digital distribution,” said CRTC chairman Francoise Bertrand. “(It) will allow a Canadian digital presence to be established while offering Canadian consumers access to the best programming in the world.”

The regulator will give the greenlight to both Canadian and foreign services. There will be two categories of Canuck channels. Category one will be more regulated and high in local content, with a minimum of 50% Canadian programming. The commission will license approximately 10 of these services based on a competitive process and with a rule of only one channel per genre. Cablers and satellite systems with digital capability will be obliged to carry these category one channels.

The CRTC also will license an unlimited number of services in category two, as long as they have 35% Canadian programming. In addition, the regulator may give the go-ahead to more than one player in the same genre in this category, a first for the CRTC.

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