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Remove HD channels, says CAB

Companies in this story
Star Choice Communications Inc.
Articles in related categories
Association News
CRTC - television
HDTV/digital television
Satellite TV
OTTAWA - Saying Star Choice is in breach of Broadcast Distribution Regulations, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters is calling for the removal of the DTH company's high definition channels.

Star Choice applied to the CRTC earlier this year for the ability to offer a number of "omnibus" high definition channels which glean HD programming from several sources and combines it on a handful of HD-only channels.

Trouble is, the company is already offering up to eight of these type of omnibus HD channels to its customers. Star Choice has submitted a legal opinion to the Commission saying it is already within its rights to offer channels in this fashion anyway.

CTV has filed a complaint with the Commission over the practice, as well.

According to the November 2nd CAB response to the Star Choice application, the DTH company has been offering these omnibus channels "despite the assurances made by Star Choice to the Commission at its renewal hearing (in 2003) that it was not offering omnibus HD channels, as well as the Commission's clear statement in Star Choice's licence renewal decision on March 31, 2004 (Decision CRTC 2004-130) that Canadian programming undertakings and foreign services providing HD programming are distinct services and, like standard definition television services, must be distributed in their entirety on dedicated channels, unless otherwise authorized by the Commission."

Star Choice says that it has no choice but to offer HD in this fashion � which is a very HD-consumer-friendly way to do it � because of the spotty high definition schedules of broadcasters and due to the fact there are capacity limitations to offering numerous HD channels.

The CAB notes, however, that the "legal opinion filed by Star Choice in support of its position was provided to Star Choice on March 22, 2004, before the issuance of the licence renewal decision discussed above, and should therefore be assigned no weight in this proceeding."

As well, adds the CAB, allowing this to happen effectively makes Star Choice a programming undertaking, choosing programming for its subscribers.

Further, "the CAB submits that the Commission should immediately issue a finding that Star Choice has been and continues to be in breach of sections 3 and 7 of the BD Regs in respect of its distribution of omnibus HD channels, and direct Star Choice to cease the distribution of omnibus HD channels until and unless it receives Commission authorization permitting such activity.

"Furthermore, the CAB strongly opposes Star Choice's request that the Commission defer its determination on the CTV complaint until it issues a decision on the application filed by Star Choice and Cancom. To agree to Star Choice's request would effectively condone Star Choice's willful disregard of clearly stated regulations and policy, undermine the Commission's authority and encourage other licensees to adopt similar tactics in the future. In the view of the CAB, such outcomes would call into question the integrity of the Commission's licensing process and its ability to exercise appropriate oversight of the Canadian broadcasting system," it adds.

The Canadian Cable Telecommunications Association submitted an application in support of Star Choice's practices, saying it is good for the small cable operators that use Star Choice/Cancom to deliver distant signals to their customers.

"In fact, without the HD omnibus channels, an innovative approach first supported by Bell ExpressVu for its own service, cable operators would not be in a position to offer customers in their market the broad HD programming choices that are currently available through satellite. In CCTA's view, permitting Star Choice/Cancom to distribute its HD service by way of omnibus channels would facilitate greater competition in broadcasting distribution by enabling other BDUs to carry a broader range of HD programming," says the CCTA submission.

There's no date set yet for when the Commission might decide on this one.
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