Last Spring, as part of the CRTC’s approval of the Bell-CTV transaction in 2011, the CRTC approved Bell’s proposal to create a Canadian Broadcasting Participation Fund. The goal of the Fund is to help public interest and consumer groups participate more often and more effectively in CRTC broadcasting proceedings. The Fund will reimburse internal and external costs of lawyers, expert witnesses and consultants necessary to draft submissions and attend at hearings. There is a grid for approved costs for the lawyers, expert witnesses and consultants but also for reimbursement of travel, accommodation and meals.
The guidelines are modeled on the guidelines that support reimbursement of costs in telecommunications proceedings. Unfortunately those guidelines are drafted in a way that assumes that the reader has also read the various decisions that support the process of reimbursing costs of participation in telecommunications proceedings. So they’re not that clear. For example, an Applicant is defined as someone who applies. The goal is to support nonprofit public interest and consumer groups and individuals (though the forms are drafted as applicants are only groups and not individuals). I did confirm with the Fund that individuals could apply. Public interest is not defined but there is the suggestion that it includes ‘advocacy and service groups’. The Fund confirmed that two of the key determining factors in eligibility are that the applicant’s intervention is relevant to the proceeding and that they are non-commercial (i.e. no broadcasters).
Bell allocated $3 million of their mandatory benefits to the Fund. They have also proposed allocating another $2 million to the Fund from the upcoming Bell-Astral2 acquisition, so if approved the total Fund will be $5 million. The Fund was launched last Friday and it is now accepting applications for reimbursement. As the Fund was initially approved March 26, 2012, it will reimburse costs from participation as of that date.
Participation in broadcasting proceedings can be expensive. A submission can be more effective when at least reviewed if not drafted by someone with experience with the rules and regulations of the CRTC, including the details of the Broadcasting Act. Hearings are fairly formal proceedings where commissioners will challenge intervenors on their position to better understand them and get information on the record. There are a number of organizations that have to pick and choose which proceedings they will participate in because they just can’t afford to weigh in on all the ones that affect them or their membership. Few individuals and small organizations attend, particularly if they are located outside Ottawa. It is hoped that this Fund can address those concerns and help the CRTC hear from more than the usual suspects.
[Yes, this post could possibly sound self-serving but honestly, I’m interested in sharing widely the availability of this Fund because I think it will increase the quality of discussion even if intervenors were to use it just to cover travel costs. My heart goes out to those passionate individuals and small groups who find the issues important enough to spend their own money to attend. I’d like to see more of them, more of the Marjorie’s, and I would like them to be able to get some help.]