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ARCHIVED -  Decision CRTC 2000-380

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Decision CRTC 2000-380

See also: 2000-380-1

Ottawa, 11 September 2000

National Broadcast Reading Service Inc. (VoicePrint)
Across Canada - 200002022

Application processed by
Public Notice CRTC 2000-59
dated 5 May 2000

Summary

VoicePrint is an English-language audio network that provides programming of particular benefit to Canadians who are blind, visually impaired or print handicapped. It is currently distributed on a voluntary basis by distribution undertakings across Canada.

Recognizing the value of this unique service, the Commission approves, by majority vote, changes to the distribution of VoicePrint which will ensure that it is widely distributed on a consistent channel placement throughout Canada and that it receives stable funding through a monthly subscriber fee.

Pursuant to section 9(1)(h) of the Broadcasting Act, the Commission is also issuing Distribution Order 2000-1 which sets out the specific carriage requirements for various distribution undertakings.

Approval of this application is in keeping with the objectives of the Canadian broadcasting policy as described in section 3(1)(p) of the Act, which states that "programming accessible by disabled persons should be provided within the Canadian broadcasting system as resources become available for this purpose."

The application

1. Although National Broadcast Reading Service Inc. (NBRS) provides VoicePrint to a number of cable systems across Canada, it has been unable to conclude any formal carriage agreements. Consequently, the way VoicePrint is carried varies from market to market, and the service is sometimes distributed on a sporadic basis.
2. To alleviate this problem, NBRS wishes to establish a constant "home channel" for VoicePrint where it can promote the service. For this reason, NBRS requested an amendment to VoicePrint's licence that would allow it to be distributed as a "secondary audio program" (SAP) service. It also asked the Commission to direct Class 1 and Class 2 broadcasting distribution undertakings to distribute VoicePrint on Newsworld's SAP channel.
3. A SAP service is carried alongside a television signal as an alternative to the standard audio that accompanies the video portion of a television program. Listeners can then choose this secondary audio signal through either a television or stereo VCR equipped to receive SAP or through a special decoder.
4. The licensee also requested authority to charge distributors of VoicePrint a monthly wholesale rate of $0.01 per subscriber which could, in turn, be charged to subscribers on a "pass-through" basis. NBRS argued that, to remain viable, it must have an immediate source of stable funding. In the past, VoicePrint received funding from, among other sources, the benefits packages offered by broadcasters and distributors as part of ownership transactions. Since distributors are no longer required to offer such benefits, VoicePrint cannot rely on this source of revenue. Moreover, inconsistency in VoicePrint's distribution has impeded advertising sales. As a result, the licensee currently depends on the occasional grants it receives as well as the participation of volunteers to operate the service. NBRS argued that it cannot continue operating on this basis and that the proposed fee will enable it to provide a core service.
5. With respect to distributors serving francophone markets, NBRS confirmed that it would not object to the Commission exempting such Class 1 and Class 2 licensees from mandatory carriage of the service.

Interventions

6. The Commission received some 600 interventions in support of this application from a broad cross-section of Canadians, including community organizations, advocacy groups, volunteers, users of VoicePrint, Members of Parliament and provincial and municipal politicians. While supporting the application, Bell ExpressVu Limited Partnership, licensee of a national DTH satellite distribution undertaking, the Canadian Cable Television Association (CCTA), and an individual user of VoicePrint expressed some concerns.
7. Bell ExpressVu stated that its DTH undertaking employs digital technology and is not configured to use a SAP service. It explained that SAP is an analog concept that does not translate directly to digital. According to the intervener, the re-engineering that would be required for its DTH undertaking to adapt to a SAP service would be costly and disruptive to subscribers. Bell ExpressVu noted that it currently distributes VoicePrint free on an audio channel located close to other audio services. It argued that the most efficient method would be for it to continue distributing VoicePrint on a dedicated audio channel.
8. Bell ExpressVu also noted that it offers a national service, serving both English-language and French-language subscribers. It stated that, for reasons of competitive equity, its French-language subscribers should receive the same consideration as subscribers in francophone cable and MDS markets and not be required to pay a fee to receive VoicePrint.
9. The CCTA expressed concern that mandatory carriage of VoicePrint on Newsworld's SAP channel would generate significant head-end costs for cable systems to accommodate the new technology. It added that cable operators would need at least twelve to twenty-four months to implement the changes.
10. According to the CCTA, moving VoicePrint to the Newsworld SAP channel would cause disruption to users of the service who are accustomed to receiving it as part of their cable system's radio service or as an audio component of an alphanumeric service. The CCTA also claimed that some users would have to buy either a stereo television or a SAP receiver to get VoicePrint on Newsworld's SAP.
11. In response to Bell ExpressVu, the licensee stated that, since DTH and MDS systems use digital technology, it would not object to them distributing VoicePrint as a dedicated audio signal as long as it is placed immediately next to a CBC radio service. This placement will enable the licensee to promote VoicePrint's location. NBRS also agreed with Bell ExpressVu that its francophone customers should not have to pay the proposed fee.
12. In response to the CCTA, the licensee stated that currently 2 million, or 25%, of cabled households do not receive VoicePrint. NBRS maintained that mandatory distribution of VoicePrint with a pass-through subscriber fee is essential to provide the service with stable funding and to ensure that it is widely available to Canadians.
13. With regard to the CCTA's concerns related to the expense involved with the proposed change, NBRS clarified that the actual cost of adding VoicePrint to Newsworld's SAP channel is lower than the $8,000 to $15,000 for each head end originally indicated in the application. Since cable operators already have the equipment in place to distribute the audio and video portions of Newsworld, they need only purchase either an upgraded SAP generator (for approximately $900), or a stand alone generator and a card to modulate the signal (for about $1,650).
14. NBRS affirmed that, rather than disrupting users, moving VoicePrint to a permanent home would solve the problem of different distribution arrangements on cable systems. According to research conducted by NBRS in 1996, 70% of VoicePrint's customers have stereo televisions. The licensee claimed that one can reasonably assume that a significantly larger percentage of users are now equipped with either a stereo VCR or a television, either of which can receive the Newsworld SAP signal. Those without such devices can purchase them for less than $200.
15. In response to an individual user of VoicePrint who stated that the service should be distributed on a "common channel for easy access" rather than a SAP channel, NBRS acknowledged that this method is also its preferred option. It noted, however, that limited channel capacity precludes such distribution.

The Commission's determination

16. The Commission approves, by majority vote, NBRS's request to amend VoicePrint's licence to allow the service to be distributed as a SAP service.
17. The Commission has taken into consideration the substantial support expressed by interveners for VoicePrint's service. The Commission is also satisfied that NBRS has fully addressed the concerns raised in the interventions indicating conditional support for this application.
18. The Commission agrees with NBRS that consistent placement of VoicePrint on the channel-lineups of distribution undertakings will establish an easily-identifiable "home" channel where it can promote the service to visually impaired and other potential listeners and more easily sell advertising. As well, the Commission accepts NBRS's argument that VoicePrint needs a pass-through subscriber fee to provide stable funding so that the service can continue operation.
19. Section 3(1)(p) of the Broadcasting Act states that "programming accessible by disabled persons should be provided within the Canadian broadcasting system as resources become available for the purpose." Consistent with this objective of the Canadian broadcasting policy, the Commission considers that VoicePrint's unique service should be available to all Canadians. For this reason, the Commission has decided to utilize one of the regulatory tools available to it to grant mandatory distribution of VoicePrint across Canada in anglophone Class 1 and Class 2 licensee and MDS markets and to subscribers to DTH undertakings who choose basic service packages having predominately English-language services. Accordingly, pursuant to section 9(1)(h) of the Act, the Commission has issued Distribution Order 2000-1, attached to this decision, setting out the specific requirements for VoicePrint's distribution.
20. The Commission has decided not to impose mandatory carriage of VoicePrint on cable and MDS systems operating in francophone markets. It will also not require DTH undertakings to provide VoicePrint to their subscribers who choose a basic service package consisting of mostly French-language services. Recognizing the value of VoicePrint's service to all Canadians, the Commission nevertheless encourages distributors to make it widely available to all of their customers.
21. The Commission also approves, by majority vote, NBRS's proposal to charge distributors of VoicePrint a monthly wholesale rate. By conditions of licence, the Commission authorizes the licensee to charge:
  • each Class 1 and Class 2 licensee and MDS distribution undertaking distributing VoicePrint in an anglophone market a maximum fee of $0.01 per subscriber per month; and
  • each DTH distribution undertaking a maximum monthly fee of $0.01 for each subscriber who subscribes to a basic service package which has a preponderance of English-language services.
22. Pursuant to the attached distribution order, distributors are authorized to increase the basic monthly fee to be paid by their subscribers by no more than the amount specified in the above-noted conditions of licence.

Secretary General

This decision is to be appended to the licence. It is available in alternative format upon request, and may also be examined at the following Internet site: www.crtc.gc.ca 

Appendix to Decision CRTC 2000-380

Distribution Order 2000-1
Distribution of the programming service of the National Broadcast Reading Service Inc. (NBRS) by persons licensed to carry on certain types of broadcasting distribution undertakings.
The Commission hereby orders, pursuant to section 9(1)(h) of the Broadcasting Act, persons licensed to carry on broadcasting distribution undertakings of the types identified in paragraph (a) below to distribute NBRS's programming service in the manner specified in paragraph (b) below, effective 12 March 2001, on the following terms and conditions:
(a) This Order applies to Class 1 and Class 2 distribution undertakings, including multipoint distribution system (MDS) undertakings, and DTH distribution undertakings. These licensees are collectively referred to in this Order as distribution licensees.
(b) Distribution licensees shall distribute NBRS's programming service in the manner specified as follows:

(i) Any Class 1 or Class 2 licensee that distributes services on an analog basis shall distribute NBRS's programming service on CBC Newsworld's secondary audio program channel in anglophone markets;

(ii) Any Class 1 or Class 2 licensee that distributes services on a digital basis, and any MDS licensee, shall distribute NBRS's programming service on an audio channel, ideally one adjacent to a CBC radio channel, in anglophone markets;

(iii) Where a Class 1 or Class 2 licensee distributes services on both an analog and a digital basis, the licensee shall distribute NBRS's programming service in accordance with both subparagraphs (i) and (ii); and

(iv) DTH distribution undertaking licensees shall distribute NBRS's programming service on an audio channel, ideally adjacent to CBC radio where possible, to all persons subscribing to any of the undertaking's basic service package that has a preponderance of English-language services.

(c) Distribution licensees are authorized to increase the basic monthly fee to be paid by their subscribers by no more than the amount authorized under the terms of NBRS's licence.
For the purposes of this Order, basic service, Class 1 licensee, Class 2 licensee, DTH distribution undertaking, licensed, anglophone market, and programming service carry the meanings assigned to them in the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations, as amended from time to time.