Ottawa -- Just how quickly is the Canadian cable industry
rolling out digital services? The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications
Commission really wants to know.
To get the facts, the CRTC has ordered cable companies with
20,000 subscribers or more to file quarterly reports on their progress, beginning Jan. 31.
The CRTC also wants details on each system's analog-channel capacity, complete
channel lineup and any proposed upgrades.
The requirement -- which Canadian Cable Television
Association vice president of legal and regulatory affairs Jay Thomson described as
'an administrative headache' -- is meant to mollify Canadian specialty channels
awaiting space on the long-promised digital band.
'The CRTC is responding to pressure put on by [the]
CAB [Canadian Association of Broadcasters] and others,' said Nick Hamilton-Piercy,
senior vice president of engineering and technology at Rogers Cablesystems. 'I think
that they're a bit upset that there are some U.S. channels in the present tier, and
they wish that we'd made our space available for Canadian channels.'
Among the seven so-called orphans still looking for
spectrum are Report on Business Television, Talk-TV and S3 Regional Sports.
Under the CRTC's rules, cable must have digital
spectrum available for these Canadian channels by September 1999. If not, analog space
must be found, even if that means bumping popular U.S. services. That's why
there's so much interest in cable's digital progress, and why this new policy
pleases Jane Logan, president of the Specialty and Premium Television Association.
'The CRTC has taken quite a valuable step here, and it has added a needed measure of
transparency into the cable industry's plans,' she said. 'That's
important not only for the new applicants, but also for the existing businesses that need
time to plan how their services will operate in a digital environment.'
The orphans should also be pleased by the CRTC's
declaration of a moratorium on allowing any new U.S. services into Canada until after the
next round of Canadian specialty-services-applications hearings in 1999. Those hearings
were scheduled to take place early this year, but they were postponed due to the current
In the past, this news would have horrified Canadian MSOs,
which rely on U.S. channels to drive their tiers. However, the sense that all of the good
channels have already been allowed in or copied by Canadian clones is keeping the industry
from panicking. 'At the time, it doesn't appear to be a big deal,' Thomson