Canadian Channel License Process Set for Makeover


Ottawa -- A revamp of the licensing process for cable
channels in Canada is in the works, as the Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is calling for comments on a new licensing method.

The overhaul comes after much industry dissatisfaction
about the licensing process in the past. The last group of new channels was approved
nearly two years ago. At the time, the channels were licensed as "digital-only,"
with any rollout dependent on the introduction of digital cable in Canada -- which was
then seen as imminent.

However, turned out to not be the case: Due to equipment
problems, digital cable is only now starting to roll out in Canada.

Interested parties -- which could include both Canadian and
foreign programmers -- must submit proposals for a new licensing framework to the CRTC by
April 9.

The direct-to-home satellite industry could also emerge as
a lobbyist, since it only became a player after the last round of licensing. And some
Canadian MSOs, amid digital rollouts, might submit proposals.

A number of the Canadian digital-only channels became irate
during the wait following the last round of licensing. They were primarily angry at the
cable-TV industry, which gave scarce analog spectrum to U.S.-based services such as The
Golf Channel and Black Entertainment Television.

To be sure, the cable industry did this to bolster the
launch of new Canadian analog channels. However, that still didn't protect it from
criticism by the digital-only channels, which said they should have been given preference
over the U.S. channels that were approved.

The digital-cable delay also scuttled the last round of
specialty-channel applications, which was set to take place in early 1998. There are more
than 50 new-channel applications on the CRTC's books, none of which have made it to public

Further prompting the call for the licensing revamp is the
Canadian DTH industry. "The satellite people are saying, 'We've got tons of capacity.
Why don't you license [the new services now]?'" CRTC spokesman Denis Carmel said.