Thank you, Madam Chair and members.
I'm Catherine Edwards, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations, or CACTUS. With me is André Desrochers, our board member from Quebec.
CACTUS was formed in 2008 to bring it to the attention of policy-makers that Canada's formerly robust community TV sector had fallen behind the pace of technological change.
Thirty countries recognize community media as a third broadcasting sector complementary to the public and private sectors. In all countries except Canada, community broadcasting is defined by community not-for-profit ownership.
We see community ownership in Canada's community radio sector. Almost 200 not-for-profit community-owned radio stations provide local reflection in communities that are too small to support a public or private sector station as well as an outlet for a diversity of voices in urban areas.
However, community ownership is not the status quo for community TV in this country. Because Canada was the first to offer community TV in the late 1960s, before there were portable video cameras—only unwieldy and expensive studio cameras—the mandate for citizen access was placed under the stewardship of cable companies.
Over 300 Wayne's World-like cable production studios opened countrywide, serving most communities having more than 5,000 people and many smaller ones as well. Cable companies kept costs down by collocating studios with their head ends. For example, in a small place like Arnprior up the Ottawa Valley, the one employee who installed your cable was probably the same guy who opened up the studio and played back your videotape.
These channels were a huge success. They enabled free speech and a diversity of voices on broadcast TV. They offered media literacy training, incubating a generation of Canadian filmmakers, technicians, journalists, writers, and actors, such as Guy Maddin, Dan Aykroyd, and Frédéric Arnould. They also fostered civic engagement by providing unfiltered access to elected officials—such as you—to constituents through open-line “Dial-Your-MP” talk shows and election and council coverage.
All that changed when the digital transition began in the 1990s. Cable companies began to consolidate and to use fibre optics to interconnect formerly separate systems, and the head ends weren't needed anymore. More than 200 of the 300 studios that had enabled TV production in our smallest community disappeared with the head ends.
Even at the big-city studios that remained, cable companies were facing competition from satellite. Citizen access was sidelined in favour of staff-produced slick productions that cable companies hoped would help them retain subscribers.
Despite their efforts, cable penetration slipped from a high of over 80% in the 1980s to just below 60% today, so that a bare majority of Canadians can see the content on a cable community channel, let alone access a production facility to create content of their own.
More than a billion dollars in subscriber money has been spent on these channels over the last decade, yet Numeris reports that only 1.5% of Canadians watch them in a given week.
Subscribers in Montreal have even filed a class action suit against Videotron's MAtv community channel.