Opening remarks

by Charles Bélanger

Vice-Chairman, Broadcasting
Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission

at a round table post-launch meeting held at the CRTC

Hull, Quebec
November 24, 1997


Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to all of you. I would like to say a special thanks to you in accepting our invitation to participate in this post-launch meeting. As you know, we have planned this informal "round table" discussion in order to share our individual and collective experiences of the fall launch.

First of all, I want to say that it is important to recognize the success of the launch. I know it involved a massive effort by all parties to pull this package together and to get it up and running. On behalf of the Commission, I want to congratulate all of you.

But, as you know, some concerns have been raised, and some wrinkles remain to be ironed out. We will have an opportunity today to get the latest updates on some of these wrinkles, and we will also try to look ahead to other issues that will need to be addressed.

We are all responsible partners in the system. The Commission is one element of a three-way partnership comprised of the industry, the public at large and the regulator. It sometimes falls upon the Commission to be the final referee in matters of what will best serve the public interest. We are not here to manage your businesses, but rather to gain a better understanding of the factors that drive your business decisions. We all want the broadcasting system to work efficiently and effectively, so as to better serve Canadians.

From the Commission's perspective, we have a responsibility to ensure that public policy objectives and public interest goals are met. Sometimes, this may appear as limiting consumers' choices. Perspective is important and for that reason, transparency will be increasingly imperative, as we move to a more competitive environment.

It is important to recognize that while competition is being introduced into the broadcasting system, we're not fully there yet. We are in a period of transition, which means we need continued flexibility – of regulations and their oversight. We need to work closely, respecting transparency and each other's confidences.

Our partnership is a real one. It is in the spirit of that partnership that this post-launch meeting has been designed and that I will ask you to think about an on-going consultation as we go through our discussions this morning.

It goes without saying that we are all scrambling to keep up with, and adapt to, the dynamic changes affecting the communications industry. And it is not just the technology that is creating pressures. It is also the competitive environment, which is a fairly recent phenonomen. It involves competition among distributors and competition among programmers. There are now 44 licensed Canadian specialty services and 36 non-Canadian services on the eligible satellite lists. Obviously, the economics of operating a successful business means you have to adapt to these changes and try to anticipate what will happen just around the corner.

Part of the reason for this meeting is to facilitate that adaptation, based on the best possible understanding of the pressure points, and of what works well and not-so-well, and what the divergent needs and objectives of the various players are. These need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, we know there are win-win solutions out there. We just have to find them.

Our goal is to establish a transparent framework which delivers on the policy and public interest objectives of government, and which is also an enabling framework for industry players.

Based on the discussions today, I am willing to set up a consultative committee, perhaps a little smaller than our group here today. The objective would be to move forward on some of the longer term issues. We will need more background information and more understanding of each other's needs and objectives before we can arrive at those elusive win-win solutions.

This might include looking at the standing of "dual status"; the question of distributor equity in programming services; the future of the Group B services that have not yet been launched; and, some guidelines for a co-operative framework that will benefit all parties concerned. I offer that now so we can use our time to best advantage, knowing there are items which can be addressed later on.

I am also proposing that there be a summary for the public record – not verbatim transcripts, but a synopsis of facts and issues and any future actions that may be agreed upon. Of course, we will circulate this synopsis for your comments and input before we make it available for the public record. It would then be placed on the CRTC website in both official languages.

Now, before we get started, does anyone have questions regarding the proposed agenda that was sent to you?

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Contact: CRTC Communications Branch, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N2
              Tel.: (819) 997-0313, TDD: (819) 994-0423, Fax: (819) 994-0218

This document is available in alternative format upon request.