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ARCHIVED -  Decision CRTC 87-569

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Decision

Ottawa, 14 July 1987
Decision CRTC 87-569
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Moncton and Saint John, New Brunswick - 863610200 - 863611000
For related documents: see Decisions CRTC 80-289 and 80-292 dated 10 April 1980, 85-962 dated 11 October 1985 and 86-709 dated 6 August 1986; Public Notices CRTC 1983-22 dated 7 February 1983, 1984-132 dated 7 February 1984 and 1985-86 dated 2 May 1985; and CRTC - Notice of Public Hearing 1987-26 dated 13 March 1987.
Background
The CBC's applications for renewal of the broadcasting licences of CBAF Moncton and CBD Saint John were published for comment in CRTC - Notice of Public Hearing 1987-26, which called representatives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to appear at a public hearing commencing 12 May 1987 in Bathurst, New Brunswick to show cause why the licences should be renewed beyond 30 September 1987.
As indicated in that notice, the CBC has been using two frequencies to simulcast its French-language and English-language basic AM services in Moncton and Saint John for more than seven years, despite the Commission's repeated requests that the Corporation find more appropriate means of serving the people in these communities and the CBC's own commitment to phase out the duplicated services at the latest by 1 November 1985 and 1 November 1986, respectively.
The French-language basic (AM) radio service of the CBC is provided to Moncton listeners via CBAF on the 1300 kHz AM frequency as well as via CBAF-26-FM on the 88.5 MHz FM frequency. In Saint John, the CBC distributes the English-language basic service via CBD on the 1110 kHz AM frequency and on the 91.3 MHz FM frequency.
The use of two frequencies to provide a duplicate service to the same area is contrary to a long-standing policy of the Commission and the Department of Communications (DOC), which applies to the private broadcasting sector as well as to the CBC, and is predicated on the optimum use of public frequencies.
As explained in the Notice of Public Hearing, the Commission licensed the operation of FM broadcasting stations to rebroadcast the AM programming services of CBAF Moncton and CBD Saint John on 10 April 1980 at the request of the CBC, in order to offset severe night-time coverage deficiencies of the AM signals and to improve the reception of these stations in outlying areas.
Decision CRTC 80-289, which authorized the rebroadcaster in Moncton, stated that the Commission had already deferred consideration of this application in March 1978 pending completion of a study undertaken jointly by the DOC, the CBC and the CRTC, with a view to optimizing the use of available frequencies in the Maritimes. The decision went on to say that:
The Commission considers that the use of the FM band is the most effective means, in the long run, of assuring quality French-language service both in the day-time and in the night-time ... The Commission will wish to review with the CBC the need for the continued use of this AM frequency when it considers the licence renewal of CBAF.
Similarly, Decision CRTC 80-292, approving the Corporation's application under the Accelerated Coverage Plan for an English-language rebroadcaster of CBD Saint John, stated:
At licence renewal time the Commission intends to review with the CBC the need for the continued use of the AM [frequency] ... 1110 kHz, particularly in view of spectrum demands for the area.
The decision noted the statement of a CBC representative that the Corporation wished to retain the CBD frequency "until everybody is satisfied that the accessibility of programming on the FM transmitter is equal to the accessibility of the programming on the AM transmitter..." The Commission also noted that the new FM transmitter would "extend the English-language AM radio network service of the CBC" to four previously unserved communities.
It is clear from these statements that the Commission intended the simulcasting of the AM radio programming on the FM band in each of these communities as a temporary measure to ease the transition of listeners from the AM to FM frequency band.
The Notice of Public Hearing also outlined the Commission's response to the "Long Range Radio Plan of the CBC" which proposed that a number of frequencies be reserved to meet future coverage objectives and specified certain cases where coverage deficiencies indicated that the AM frequency should be replaced with FM (See also Public Notice CRTC 1983-22 and Decision CRTC 86-709).
In 1984 a Tripartite Committee consisting of representatives of the CBC, DOC and the Commission, considered, among other items, the matter of simulcasting in five communities in Atlantic Canada: Moncton and Saint John, New Brunswick; Goose Bay and Marystown, Newfoundland; and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The CBC representatives made a commitment to eliminate the duplication by closing down the AM stations and vacating the frequencies in two stages. The Commission announced in Public Notice CRTC 1985-86 that it expected the CBC to phase out the AM stations in each location by 1 November 1985. (As mentioned above, the CBC had itself proposed to vacate CBAF Moncton by 1 November 1985 and CBD Saint John by 1 November 1986.)
The Corporation was asked to take immediate steps to eliminate the duplication of services and prepare the public for the forthcoming changes. Decision CRTC 85-962 granted a one-year renewal of the licence for CBH Halifax (to 31 October 1986), and required the CBC to report by 11 January 1986 on studies it had committed to undertake in Saint John and Halifax "to determine the best way to ensure that residents ... continue to have access to the best and most complete radio service technically deliverable in the area, keeping in mind the scarcity of public frequencies".
12 May Public Hearing
At the hearing the panel chairman explained the CRTC's policy against the utilization of two frequencies in the same market to deliver a duplicate service and reiterated the licensing history of the FM rebroadcasters in Moncton and Saint John.
Representatives of the CBC stated that although the Corporation had previously undertaken to cease the unnecessary duplication, the Corporation now saw no reason to discontinue broadcasting the CBC basic service on AM because several unused frequencies are still available in each community and listener usage surveys had indicated that area listeners wanted continued access to the CBC's basic network service on both the AM and FM frequency bands.
The CBC argued, as it had done in a similar situation in the Halifax market described at length in Decision CRTC 86-709, that eliminating the duplication would cause excessive disruption to its listeners. In addition, the CBC engineering representative explained that, in each case, the FM transmitter offered the best coverage solution, although in the case of Moncton, the closure of the AM station would deprive the residents in the Springhill/Port Elgin area of service, while in Saint John reference was made, and reiterated in the intervention by Mayor Elsie Wayne, to difficulty with reception of the FM signal within the city itself, particularly in the Glen Falls area. Further, with respect to the Moncton market, the CBC stated that if CBAF were to close down, no French-language radio service would be available on the AM band in this market.
While the CBC representatives at the hearing conceded that "as a general principle" there is no justification for the Corporation not to uphold the Commission's policy against unnecessary duplication of coverage, they saw no reason to alter the status quo at the present time or in the immediate future and, consequently, were seeking a full five-year licence term for both CBAF and CBD.
Interventions
The Commission received 12 submissions with respect to the CBC's application to renew CBAF Moncton and 13 regarding CBD Saint John. Three of the interventions, including those by the Honourable Robert McCready, Minister of Transportation for New Brunswick, and by The New Brunwick Liberal Party, addressed both applications. While most of the interventions stated strong support for continuation of the CBAF and CBD AM services, several of these expressed the mistaken impression that the discontinuation of these stations would mean the elimination of the CBC's French-language and English-language basic radio network services.
The Honourable Omer Léger, Minister of Tourism, Recreation and Culture, Fernand Robichaud, M.P. for Westmorland-Kent, The New Brunswick Liberal Party, the City of Saint John and Eric Kipping, MLA for Saint John North all endorsed the continuation of basic service on both AM and FM.
With respect to the CBAF application, Louis-Philippe Blanchard, Rector of the Université de Moncton, the Société des Acadiens du Nouveau-Brunswick, and the Syndicat canadien de la Fonction publique (section locale 672) all expressed strong preference for continuation of CBAF, citing the thirty-three year existence of this station and the resulting habit of listeners to tune to the basic network service on the AM band. All spoke of the need to preserve the Acadian identity of the francophone population.
Mr. Blanchard, in particular, eloquently addressed the concerns of the Acadian population in the Moncton area [TRANSLATION]:
...[Canada] has two great cultures that exist, side by side, in a vast country... We both occupy the entire space. And I believe that the CRTC, in its wisdom has elaborated policies that permit both anglophones and francophones to participate in both [cultures] throughout the country...
As long as and until there is a string of private French-language stations, I believe that it is extremely important that the French-language public radio service remain on the AM band. And, if this takes 5 years, 10 years, 30 years, I think that it must remain there and that you must ensure the service that the public demands.
Mr. Aubrey Urqhart expressed concern that the duplication of service is a misuse of the frequency spectrum and suggested that the CBC assess the situation with a view to redirecting funds to maintain "the desired level of quality Canadian programming".
The Atlantic Association of Broadcasters and New Brunswick Broadcasting Co. Limited both emphasized that since private broadcasters are not permitted to rebroadcast AM signals on the FM band, the CBC should cease the duplication and retain a broadcast signal on the band that best suits their purpose.
Conclusion
The Commission has given careful consideration to all of the foregoing, including the views advanced by the CBC at the 12 May 1987 hearing to justify its failure to conform to Commission policy and to fulfill its own commitments. The Commission recognizes that service dificiencies do exist in some areas and has been particularly sensitive to the concerns reflected in interventions received from the public in the Moncton and Saint John regions and from their elected representatives with respect to the continued use of CBAF and CBD and their importance for listeners who are unable to receive the FM rebroadcasts of these signals. It also notes that the engineering solutions to the duplication problem presented by the CBC are inordinately costly at a time when the Corporation's budget is subject to serious restraint.
The Commission considers it unacceptable that the CBC has failed to embark upon a meaningful campaign to inform its radio listeners of the availability of its basic radio service on FM. Such promotion could have changed listening habits, as has happened in other areas of the country where the CBC has moved its AM service to FM frequencies, and might well have altered the current situation. The Commission also considers it unfortunate that the CBC has failed to submit any practical proposals for an early and reasonable solution to these difficulties.
However, because of the strong representations received from the communities involved, the Commission is prepared, notwithstanding its serious concerns in this matter, to grant an exemption to its policy for a further interim period of two years. The exemption is intended specifically to allow the CBC, in concert with the CRTC and the DOC, the time necessary to find a practical and reasonable solution to this problem that will ensure that listeners in the Moncton and Saint John areas receive complete and adequate signal coverage of the French- and English-language CBC basic radio services.
Accordingly, the Commission renews the broadcasting licences for CBAF Moncton and CBD Saint John from 1 October 1987 until 31 August 1989, subject to the conditions specified in the licences to be issued.
The Corporation is required to report within four months of the date of this decision on the solutions it proposes to eliminate the service duplication in these communities by the end of the new licence term, in order to uphold the policy enunciated in the Broadcasting Act with respect to the optimum utilization of public radio frequencies. The Corporation is reminded that only in the most extraordinary circumstances will the Commission tolerate the continuance of this unacceptable duplication of service beyond the two-year licence term herein granted.
Fernand Bélisle
Secretary General