ARCHIVED - Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2015-120
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Reference: Part 1 application posted on 5 February 2015
Ottawa, 31 March 2015
Star Choice Television Network Incorporated
National direct-to-home broadcasting distribution undertaking - Extension of deadline for the distribution of emergency alert messages
The Commission denies the application by Star Choice Television Network Incorporated (Star Choice) for a one-year extension to the deadline to comply with the requirements relating to the mandatory distribution of emergency alert messages on Shaw Direct, its national direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting distribution undertaking (BDU) serving consumers across Canada.
The vast majority of broadcasters and BDUs have taken the initiative and have implemented emergency alerting measures that will make Canadians’ lives safer. The Commission is concerned and disappointed that certain undertakings are not ready to make use of the National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination System, which has been operational since 2010. In the Commission’s view, an extension to the 31 March 2015 deadline by which a BDU must implement a public alerting system will affect the ability of Canadians to receive emergency alert messages informing them of imminent dangers to life, and thus affect their safety. In regard to the present case, approximately 220,000 subscribers in Canadian households will be affected by Star Choice’s delay. Given that Star Choice has had the opportunity to participate in the National Public Alerting System since 2010, and given the importance that all Canadians be warned of imminent perils, the Commission considers that the requested one-year extension would not be appropriate in the circumstances. However, faced with an application filed as late as February 2015, the Commission has very few options at its disposal.
Consequently, Star Choice will be granted a six-month extension to the original implementation deadline. Accordingly, the licensee shall now be required to fully implement emergency alerting on its national DTH BDU Shaw Direct by no later than 30 September 2015. In addition, it shall be required to ensure that all affected customers are made aware of the delay since the life and safety of Canadians may be affected. Star Choice will also be required to periodically report to the Commission to ensure steps are being taken to solve the problem.
- Emergency alert messages are issued by public officials (such as emergency management officials, or EMOs) for immediate distribution to the public to warn of dangers to life and property. These messages contain information relating to the nature of the threat, the area affected, and actions the public should take. The provision of emergency alert messages is achieved through Canada’s National Public Alerting System (NPAS).
- In Broadcasting Regulatory Policy 2014-444, the Commission announced that it had made amendments to, among other things, the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations (the Regulations) to make participation in the NPAS mandatory for broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDUs). As now set out in subsection 7.2(2) of the Regulations, BDUs are required to implement a public alerting system that distributes alerts announcing an imminent or unfolding danger to life, by no later than 31 March 2015.
- Star Choice Television Network Incorporated (Star Choice) filed an application relating to its national direct-to-home (DTH) BDU known as Shaw Direct. Specifically, it requested an extension of the deadline, from 31 March 2015 to 31 March 2016, to comply with the requirements relating to the mandatory distribution of emergency alert messages.
- The licensee stated that although the majority of its subscribers own equipment that has NPAS reception capability, approximately 220,000 subscribers own older model receivers that suffer from notable technical limitations, and that were neither designed for nor capable of being used for emergency alerting.
- Star Choice indicated that it has made several attempts at finding a solution (for example, email alerts, source switching, virtual channel overrides and software updates), and that all attempts have been met with compatibility issues or require significant resources on the part of the service. It further indicated that it cannot feasibly cause or incent its affected customers to immediately exchange their older receivers for NPAS-capable receivers.
- According to the licensee, the requested extension would give it time to inform affected customers through billing inserts that their equipment is not capable of receiving emergency alerts. The extension would also allow the licensee to increase efforts to incent additional affected customers to be transitioned to emergency alert-capable receivers, and would allow Star Choice to continue to investigate technical solutions to enable emergency alerts on the existing receivers owned by the affected customers.
- Star Choice also committed to reporting to the Commission on a monthly basis in regard to the remaining number of subscribers who continue to use non-NPAS capable receivers.
Intervention and reply
- The Commission received an intervention in opposition to this application from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of British Columbia and the National Pensioners Federation (collectively, the interveners), to which the licensee replied. The public record for this application can be found on the Commission’s website at www.crtc.gc.ca or by using the application number provided above.
- The interveners stated that Star Choice has had almost eight years to implement an NPAS solution, and has not acted expeditiously to do so. They noted that the licensee did not demonstrate any effort in this regard until the Commission issued Broadcasting Regulatory Policy 2014-444. They further stated that they were not convinced that Star Choice had justified its request for a one-year extension, as the proposed transition was unclear, and that Shaw Direct subscribers should not bear the responsibility and financial burden for receiving emergency alerts.
- The interveners also stated, however, that they are convinced that Star Choice has exhausted all technical solutions for the legacy receivers, and that the most efficient way to ensure that subscribers have access to emergency alerts is to require the licensee to distribute new satellite receivers to these subscribers free of charge and as soon as possible. They also considered it appropriate for the Commission to impose certain sanctions on Star Choice, including the suspension of its broadcasting licence for Shaw Direct in furtherance of section 3(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act, should the licensee fail to implement an NPAS solution as soon as possible.
- In reply, Star Choice stated that it has acted expeditiously in implementing the NPAS on Shaw Direct. It argued that the interveners have understated and oversimplified the technical challenges involved in the implementation of the NPAS and the transition of Shaw Direct customers to new receivers that support the NPAS. The licensee further argued that its efforts and its proposal are consistent with applicable regulations and policies, as well as the responsibilities of licensees, and that it does not expect customers to “bear responsibility and financial burden for receiving emergency alerts.” Star Choice noted that it has voluntarily decided to further subsidize the transition for the affected customers, who will have the opportunity to acquire an alert-capable receiver at a further subsidized price of $49.50, rather than $99.00 as it had originally proposed. It also argued that the suspension of its broadcasting licence for Shaw Direct would deprive service to all of its customers, is unjustifiably punitive, and would not protect its customers nor achieve the ultimate objective of ensuring that all BDU subscribers receive emergency alerts.
- The vast majority of broadcasters and BDUs have taken the initiative and have implemented emergency alerting measures that will make Canadians’ lives safer. The Commission is concerned and disappointed that certain undertakings are not ready to make use of the National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination (NAAD) System, which has been operational since 2010 (see Broadcasting Decision 2011-438). The purpose of the emergency alerting framework set out in Broadcasting Regulatory Policy 2014-444 is to ensure that alerts are available to as many Canadians as possible. In that policy, the Commission stated that the full participation of the broadcasting industry is important in order for the NPAS to be effective in safeguarding and warning Canadians. As such, it considers that any request to delay the implementation of emergency alerting should be accompanied by compelling rationale and a plan to meet any modified deadline.
- In regard to the present application, over 220,000 Canadians will be affected by Star Choice’s inability to implement emergency alerting on its national DTH BDU by the 31 March 2015 deadline. In the Commission’s view, an extension of the deadline by which a BDU must implement a public alerting system will affect the ability of Canadians to receive emergency alert messages informing them of imminent dangers to life, and thus affect their safety.
- However, the Commission acknowledges that the non-NPAS capable receivers owned and used by most Shaw Direct customers are obsolete. In fact, there are no other known deployments of these specific receivers in North America. It further considers that Star Choice has made efforts at finding a solution to the present problem.
- Faced with an application filed as late as February 2015, the Commission has very few options at its disposal. The Commission will therefore grant Star Choice an extension to the deadline to comply with the requirements relating to the mandatory distribution of emergency alert messages on its national DTH BDU.
- However, given that Star Choice has had the opportunity to participate in the NPAS since 2010 (when the NAAD System became operational), and given the importance that all Canadians be warned of imminent perils, the Commission considers that a one-year extension would not be appropriate in the circumstances. Accordingly, the Commission denies the licensee’s request in this regard. Instead, the Commission considers it appropriate to grant Star Choice only a six-month extension to implement emergency alerting. The licensee will therefore be required to fully implement emergency alerting on its national DTH BDU Shaw Direct by no later than 30 September 2015. In addition, the Commission considers it appropriate to require Star Choice, during this time, to ensure that all the affected customers will be made aware of the delay, and to periodically report to the Commission to ensure steps are being taken to solve the problem.
The licensee shall adhere to the following conditions of licence:
As an exception to subsection 7.2(2) of the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations, any alert that the licensee receives from the National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination System shall not be required to be distributed to subscribers who, as of 31 March 2015, possess non-National Public Alerting System capable receivers identified as “Legacy 97”, “DSR 500” and “00.FE”, until 30 September 2015.
The licensee shall, up until the sooner of 30 September 2015 or the date on which the solution for the distribution of emergency alerts is fully implemented, report orally to the Commission on a bi-weekly basis, and in writing on a monthly basis, as to the following:
- the remaining number of affected customers for its national direct-to-home broadcasting distribution undertaking Shaw Direct; and
- the feasibility and implementation of other technical solutions for the distribution of emergency alerts, such as Broadcast Electronic Personal Message.Footnote 1
Further, Star Choice must notify all affected customers by way of a dedicated letter, rather than a billing insert, in a timely manner that they will not be able to receive alerts on the effective date of 31 March 2015. In this regard, the licensee must include the following in the notification letter:
- a statement that it has had the opportunity to voluntarily participate in the NAAD System since 2010;
- a clear explanation for the incapability to provide emergency alerts, the expected time to a resolution, and any action the customer can take to receive alerts with its existing service (for example, procuring a new set-top box); and
- a list of other licensed BDU offerings in the affected geographic area that may currently offer emergency alerting.
- The licensee must submit a copy of this letter to the Commission with its 30 April 2015 implementation report.Footnote 2
- Finally, as technology permits, the Commission considers that the built-in capabilities of the affected set-top boxes should also be used to deliver on-screen messages informing the affected customers of the fact that they are unable to receive emergency alert messages.
- Amendments to various regulations, the standard conditions of licence for video-on-demand undertakings and certain exemption orders - Provisions requiring the mandatory distribution of emergency alert messages, Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2014-444 and Broadcasting Orders CRTC 2014-445, 2014-446, 2014-447 and 2014-448, 29 August 2014
- The Weather Network/Météomédia - Licence renewal and extension of the mandatory distribution of the service, Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2011-438, 22 July 2011
*This decision is to be appended to the licence.
- Footnote 1
Broadcast Electronic Personal Message is a text-based electronic message that can be sent by the service provider directly to all set-top boxes simultaneously, similar to an email.
- Footnote 2
In Broadcasting Regulatory Policy 2014-444, the Commission directed each broadcaster and BDU to file an implementation report on 30 April 2015, or 30 April 2016 for broadcasters required to implement alerting by 31 March 2016, outlining the steps they have taken to comply with the emergency alerting requirements.
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