CANADIAN CABLE TELEVISION ASSOCIATION

In 1957, Canada's fledgling cable operators formed the National Community Antenna Television Association of Canada to represent their collective interests to the public and varioU.S. government bodies. In 1968, after the passage of the Broadcasting Act and the creation of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the cable indU.S.try changed the name of its umbrella organization to the Canadian Cable Television Association (CCTA). Over the last three decades Canada's cable operators have certainly dramatically altered the character of Canadian television services, by extending the range of programming and services available to Canadians and opening the door to the "500 channel universe."

The first Canadian cable televisioussystem was established in London, Ontario in 1952 (though it was preceded by a Montreal cable system that delivered audio-only service until later the same year). Cable's original purpose was simply to improve the quality of over-the-air reception from local and regional TV stations. In London, Ontario in 1952 the cable TV system delivered the CBC signal from Toronto and the U.S. networks from border cities. In 1963, Canadian cable TV operators began using microwave technology to deliver services to rural and remote communities.

In the 1970s cable subscriptions rose sharply. By 1977, the number of households subscribing to cable passed 50%. Currently 95% of Canadian TV households are passed by cable and 81% of those households subscribe to cable services. Through microwave relay and satellite systems, cable TV services are available in more than 2,000 small and rural communities across Canada.

The cable business has been extremely lucrative for most CCTA members. Between 1983 and 1993, cable rates rose an average of 80% compared to a 31% increase in local telephone rates and a 47% increase in the consumer price index. Moreover, the CRTC only regulates the basic subscription rate charged by cable operators, but 96% of subscribers chose a package of channels known as extended basic whose rate is unregulated.

Like other media industries, cable is now characterised by a significant level of corporate concentration; the largest nine companies account for 80% of total subscribers. With over 30% of all Canadian cable subscribers, and close to 45% of all English-Canadian subscribers under its corporate banner, Rogers Communications is the dominant national firm. In Quebec, Le Groupe Videotron accounts for close to 60% of all subscribers.

The expansion of cable in Canada in the 1970s can be attributed to a number of regulatory decisions made by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). In 1969, after much public pressure and lobbying from the CCTA, the CRTC permitted cable systems operating at a distance from the U.S. border, as in Edmonton and Ottawa, to use microwave distribution technology to gather U.S. broadcast signals. Cable's success as a distribution technology was directly related to its ability to provide Canadian households with U.S. signals they either could not otherwise receive or received poorly with conventional roof-top antennae. In 1975, the CRTC declared that cable was a "chosen instrument of public policy" and developed detailed regulations concerning the signals and services that cable companies can or must provide, the rates charged subscribers, the provision of a community channel, and more.

 

In many respects, cable was the first of the much ballyhooed new technologies. Aside from its early use of microwave technology, Canadian cable TV initiated the use of satellite-delivered services when in the 1970s it offered the House of Commons proceedings to subscribers across the country. Cable companies also developed the first alpha-numeric television services in Canada. Home shopping and real estate services have been available in larger centers for several years. Some cable systems also offer travel information, electronic mail, video games, and instructional services. Cable companies are involved in a number of field-trials to deliver broadband, interactive home services.

At the local level, the member companies of the CCTA have supported community channels for over 25 years. In 1993, 225 community channels across the country provided more than 235,000 hours of programming. For all but the smallest cable companies, community channels are a condition of their license to operate. Cable companies mU.S.t make available both space and equipment to community groups and individuals interested in producing television programming; the cable operators are legally responsible for all the material broadcast on the community channels. Although they were initially envisioned as a great experiment in citizen participation and democratic communication, the community channels have by and large developed into rather paternalistic institutions that avoid controversial and politically-charged programming. Instead, local council meetings, local sports events, and multicultural information programming make up the bulk of the offerings on most community channels.

As Canada moves forward into age of interactive information and entertainment services, the CCTA mU.S.t contend with the looming possibility of competition from Canada's telephone companies. The CCTA has argued repeatedly that cable operators are better suited to providing Canadians with access to the information superhighway. CCTA companies are currently engaged in an elaborate project to improve the interactive, multimedia, transactional capabilities of cables systems, including a plan to establish national interconnection via cable. The CCTA has also maintained that, unlike the telephone companies, cable operators are committed to protecting and supporting the production of Canadian material in the interests of reinforcing Canadian sovereignty and cultural identity.

-Ted Magder

FURTHER READING

Babe, Robert E. Cable Television and Telecommunication in Canada: An Economic Analysis. East Lansing, Michigan: Division of Research, Graduate School of BU.S.iness Administration, Michigan State University, 1975.

Brady, Diane. "Competing Channels: Regulators Debate Television's Future." Macleans (Toronto, Canada), March 22, 1993.

Cable Television. Ottawa, Canada:Statistics Canada, 1971--.

Cable Television in Canada. Canadian Radio-Television Commission. . Ottawa: The Commission, 1971.

Freeman, Mike. "Canada Test Angers Border Broadcasters." Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), June 8, 1992.

Hollins, Timothy. Beyond Broadcasting: Into the Cable Age. London: British Film Institute, 1984.

Murray, Karen. "Canadian Co-op Combats Yank Satellite Attack." Variety (Los Angeles, California), May 17, 1993.

____________. "Striking Out at TV Violence." Variety (Los Angeles, California), May 17, 1993.

 

See also Canada