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It's time for Canadians to demand the local and community media policy we deserve

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Tomorrow is the deadline for Canadians (that's you) to tell the CRTC how it should update its local and community TV policy. TV? Who watches TV anymore? Or maybe you're asking, "Does local TV even exist? How can you hold a hearing about an animal noboby has seen in a decade?"

Good questions. The CRTC conducted a year-long consultation last year called "Let's Talk TV."  Tomorrow's deadline is an offshoot, in which the CRTC's policies for local and community TV will be updated. The consultation is really about what will happen to $150 million that Canada's big cable and satellite companies collect from subscribers every year that is supposed to support "community TV."

Once upon a time, 80 per cent of Canadians had cable subscriptions and there were more than 300 cable community channels. You know...like in Wayne's World. Those quirky little neighbourhood studios where Mike Myers got his start (Scarborough Cable), Dan Aykroyd (Ottawa Cablevision), Tom Green (Rogers in Ottawa), or Guy Maddin (Winnipeg Videon). Maybe you made a show on community cable yourself.

The joke is that for more than a decade, the CRTC has continued to mandate cable companies to support "community TV," but more than 90 per cent of these channels have closed. As cable companies have interconnected their rural operations, the chief ends they once needed to serve outlying areas (where the production studios were) aren't needed anymore. So they closed them...and continued to spend all your money (if you're a subscriber) on increasingly professionalized "community channels" in big cities. There are fewer than 20 distinct program schedules or "channels" left in the whole country. The content made at these big centres (Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver) are piped back out over huge regional cable networks, with the occasional local insertion of a council meeting to serve a particular area. 

Even more silly, perhaps, is that satellite companies (which distribute national signals, not local ones) spend your money on "community TV" too, but it's just videos they pay independent producers to produce and then post on their video-on-demand platforms. No media training is happening on the ground, or encouragement of marginalized voices, neighbourhoods, or organizations, as is expected under CRTC policy.

Why should you care? CACTUS proposed in 2009 when the CRTC last reviewed its policies that the $150 million should be used to support Community-Access Media Centres from coast to coast. Canadians in small communities that have no local media coverage as well as large ones in which minority voices have a tough time being heard could learn ALL the new media tricks and tips ("How do I tweet? How can I tell people my event is on? How do I design a website and upload some video to it? How do I podcast?"). We could access equipment, get help using it, and then distribute it...whether that means old-fashioned over-the-air TV or radio, streaming, or distribution to mobile devices. It's a busy media-verse out there if you're trying to be seen and heard.

What do you think? After a decade of letting cable and satellite companies squander your subscription dollars for big-city pseudo "community channels" that nobody watches, the CRTC has put on the table the possibility that those same companies could redirect that $150 million to support the local commercial news stations they now own: CTV, Global, CityTV, TVA. 

That's what'll happen, unless you speak up: your choice -- a bit more news at big-city channels owned by Rogers, Shaw, Bell, and Quebecor (news they could easily pay for out of their own pockets...isn't that why we let them buy up all our private broadcasters?) or a redistribution of that money back out to the hinterland and to neighbourhoods, where it was intended, to better reflect the dynamic mosaic that is Canada. To enable us all to have a voice in the digital environment.  

Read the public notice and send your comment by 8 p.m. Eastern by fax (819) 994-0218 or use the online comment form at the bottom of the notice. And best of all, say you want to appear in person at the hearing in January. The CRTC needs to hear our voices. They'll pay for you to go to Ottawa, or you can Skype in! Help us make democracy work.

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