Stephen B. Simpson
Regional Commissioner for British Columbia and the Yukon
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
to the 2012 Regional Community Radio Conference
Kootenay, British Columbia
April 14, 2012
(Check against delivery)
Thank you for your kind introduction and warm welcome. It is truly a delight to spend time with people involved in community radio. It’s a welcome reminder of what the spirit of broadcasting in this country is all about.
What could be more quintessentially Canadian than community and campus radio stations? These locally-operated stations are a reflection of, and testament to, so many of the qualities that Canadians value.
Your radio stations give voice to individuals and groups who might not otherwise be heard and bring vital issues to the public square. They ensure that their programming is different in both style and substance from anything else on the dial.
In short, your programming fills a unique niche in your communities and performs a very valuable public service.
Community Radio Fund of Canada
So I am very proud of the CRTC’s strengthened policy to better support community and campus radio.
As you probably are aware, in July 2010 the Commission announced a stable, predictable funding framework through the Community Radio Fund of Canada. Our objective was to help ensure the viability and sustainability of the services you provide.
Some of you may have taken part in the public hearing we held in 2010 to look into these issues. We heard, repeatedly, about the instability of revenues generated from fundraising campaigns, the decline in opportunities for subsidies, limited financing for specific projects, copyright fees, and so on.
Obviously, some stations are able to thrive and succeed more easily than others. But one thing is certain: the majority of stations must rely on multiple sources of financing.
Now, the CRTC is not directly involved in funding your operations. But we have directed private broadcasters to redirect some of their Canadian content development contributions to the Community Radio Fund of Canada. Specifically, broadcasters that make more than $1.25 million a year have to direct 15% of their basic annual contributions to the Fund.
Many of you here in this room, including people like Catherine [Fisher, President, National Campus and Community Radio Association], can take credit for this independent fund.
It was established in 2007 by the National Campus and Community Radio Association, the Alliance des radios communautaires du Canada and the Association des radiodiffuseurs communautaires du Québec. The Fund's mandate is to contribute to the development of community media and provide it with financial support.
Your stations can access the Community Radio Fund of Canada under two programs: the Radio Talent Development Program and the Youth Internship Program. The goal of both is to develop innovative, local-interest programming while providing mentorship, education and training for broadcasters.
As a result of the regulatory changes we introduced in 2011, the Fund now receives a recurring annual contribution of some $800,000 a year. This decision emphasizes the importance we place on ensuring your stations can offer local information, give exposure to emerging Canadian artists and provide opportunities for volunteers to participate in the broadcasting system. This extra funding also will enable your stations to implement new approaches and distribute your programming digitally.
And that’s not the only pot of money available to support your sector. Mandatory contributions arising out of ownership transactions involving commercial radio stations will mean even more new funding in the future.
For example, while it is far from being a fait accompli, the potential purchase of Astral Media by BCE could generate additional funding. That’s because, IF the CRTC approves the deal, the companies involved are required to contribute half a percent of the value of the radio assets involved in the transaction to the Community Radio Fund of Canada.
In addition to extra money, the Commission now provides campus radio stations with greater flexibility by replacing hourly advertising limits with weekly limits.
And we no longer consider sponsor identification or the mention of sponsors in promotions when determining the 504 minute weekly advertising limit. Of course, there are no caps on advertising for those community stations that wish to gain additional revenues.
The other major change introduced in the revised policy is the simplification of the licensing regime. We have harmonized, as much as possible, the regulations for community and campus radio stations.
Although they are structured differently, the obligations are almost identical, save for a few exceptions. We now have a single policy for your sector rather than the previous two. While campus and community stations are still recognized as being different, the old subcategories, such as campus instructional and community-based campus stations, have been eliminated.
Another area where we made changes is in the issuance of licences for developmental campus or community radio stations. The Commission now issues licences for a five-year term, rather than the previous three.
We recognize the value in issuing a longer licence term. It ensures more stable and viable operations while also providing licensees up to two years to implement their services.
Sometimes, community groups come forward with applications in competitive processes. The Commission does not reserve frequencies or portions of the radio spectrum for future use by types of radio stations. But this doesn’t mean that the community sector should be disadvantaged when matched up against the other sectors for spectrum.
Applications from your sector are assessed on their own merits. So it is up to you to demonstrate that the local community needs what you have to offer. It is in your very capable hands to show us how your applications meet CRTC policy and how the services you propose will meet the needs of the communities they are intended to serve.
Given the scarcity of available spectrum in many markets, all applicants are expected to present complete proposals and to put their best foot forward. The Commission assesses the needs of each market based on its own set of circumstances and the merits of each application.
That said, we have tried to give community stations room to establish themselves to be on more equal footing when they do come up for competitive licences.
I should also point out that we introduced a new procedure for proposals that could affect stations operating at low power in the same market. In the past, low-power stations would only learn that they were at risk of being affected technically by new or existing stations when the Commission published a notice of consultation. Applicants are now asked whether and how advance notice has been given to low-power stations.
While on the topic of licences, I have to apologize that we are behind in processing licence renewals. All licensees have seen delays, not just the community sector. We were especially late in 2011 and, with the workload facing the Commission these days, it is not yet clear how quickly we will get through them.
I am not suggesting this isn’t important work. However, there a number of things which need to be done, including compliance checks.
Now, I recognize that your operations are often run by volunteers. I realize that few people working in community radio stations are specialized in regulatory policies. And I know the paperwork can sometimes appear to be complicated.
However, when you prepare your applications for renewal—and at all times during your operations—I would urge you to be sure that you are in compliance. It’s important to have internal mechanisms in place to ensure you don’t run afoul of CRTC rules and policies. I also encourage you to ensure the new policy requirements are reflected in your submissions.
If you have questions regarding the licence renewal process—or about any CRTC process, policy or decision—help is at hand. We have created a single point of contact for small radio and television services and cable companies. Our knowledgeable staff can save you a lot of time and effort by helping you find the information you need quickly.
These are, clearly, good times to be involved in community radio in Canada. There is an unprecedented level of support for your sector, both financially and from a regulatory standpoint.
This reinforces the well-earned recognition for the important work that you do. Local content is vital and has never mattered more. During the economic turmoil of the last five years, we have noticed that commercial stations in smaller markets that invest in local content have fared better. In fact, in many cases, the profit margin of stations whose content is more formulaic has shrunk.
Quite simply, the more local the content, the greater the chance of survival.
This trend underlines the importance of hiring local staff, being present in the community and offering good local programming—the very things your stations do so very well.
On behalf of all the Commissioners at the CRTC, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for your dedication and determination to serve the distinct needs of your communities. And for playing such an essential role in the broadcasting system.
I wish you every success in the coming years as you continue to provide innovative and inspiring programming that gives voice to your fellow citizens—and makes Canada a better place for us all.
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