CRTC hearings are underway

Anyone with an interest in the future of Canadian tv should have one eye firmly fixed on Hull, Que., the pulp and paper town where month long crtc hearings on policy and regulation got under way March 1.In fact, so important...

Anyone with an interest in the future of Canadian tv should have one eye firmly fixed on Hull, Que., the pulp and paper town where month long crtc hearings on policy and regulation got under way March 1.

In fact, so important are the hearings, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is expecting more than 700 written submissions and more than 170 oral presentations from interested groups and individuals.

The reason for the hearings is tv broadcast licensing and cable regulation, but hovering in the background – and perhaps soon to be in geosynchronous orbit high above the Earth – are the fearsome-sounding ‘death stars,’ the direct satellite broadcasts that promise Canadians with the right receiving dish can get enough channels to satisfy even the most obscure viewing habits.

Although there has been plenty of talk, there hasn’t yet been a death star beaming its fare to Canadians; but that day isn’t so far off.

Hughes DirecTv Canada, the Toronto-based affiliate of DirecTv of Los Angeles, itself a subsidiary of Hughes Communications, has announced its entry into the direct satellite broadcast business.

DirecTv expects to offer a multiplicity of channels about this time next year, including some that Canadian cable companies are not allowed to offer their customers.

This, the cable companies are arguing, is unfair adding they should be allowed to carry some of these channels such as Home Box Office.

Also on the crtc agenda will be digital compression, the technology that allows four or more signals to be carried in the space where current technology allows only one.

The cable industry projects an investment of $7 billion in digital compression by the end of the century, with subscribers coughing up $2 billion of that through higher cable fees, a proposal that has already drawn the ire of consumer groups.