The CRTC has sent a sobering reminder to Telesat Canada that it won’t hesitate to use its legislative powers to ensure all broadcast licensees have equal access to satellite capacity. In a decision that surprised some, including one CRTC commissioner, the regulator forced Canada’s sole satellite carrier to give back three Anik F1 transponders to Star Choice Communications Inc, despite a contract provision that appeared to give Telesat the right to lease them to other customers (RoW, Jan. 8/01). Telesat had attempted to ‘claw back’ four transponders, and to re-sell them to CHUM Limited, Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc and BCE Inc-affiliate Netstar Communications Inc. Telesat, itself a subsidiary of BCE, was accused by Star Choice of giving preference to a sister company.  Star Choice says it needs the additional capacity to launch new digital TV channels. The programmers also wanted the transponders to launch new digital channels – specifically their own. According to Order 2001-133, Star Choice regains control of three of the four disputed transponders. Telesat is able to keep one, but it can only be used for existing broadcast services and not new digital channels.  The commission’s rationale centered around the issue of providing capacity for the myriad of digital specialty channels licensed by the CRTC last November. It says the decision was necessary due to the limited Ku-band capacity on Anik F1, but would not have normally made a distinction between distributors and programmers. The CRTC notes that Anik F2 will be launched in two years which should provide additional capacity to the industry. CHUM disappointed with ruling Peter Miller, VP business and regulatory affairs at CHUM Television, is disappointed that the commission is interfering with his company’s ability to become masters of its own destiny. "The fact that three companies saw the potential shortage of capacity and availed themselves of long-standing legal rights to get that capacity was an indication of the foresight they held in anticipating a new competitive environment," he says. CRTC commissioner Andrew Cardozo, in a dissenting opinion, writes "these program providers (if the clawback were allowed) and any others would have a competitive marketplace in which to pursue their required space segment for their new Category 2 services, without any distributor being in a monopolist or controlling gatekeeper role."  It is still unclear who Telesat will lease the fourth transponder to and what it will be used for. Miller told RoW that CHUM won’t be the recipient.  For more details on this story, read ROW’s affiliate publication Canadian Communications Reports: Feb. 14/01, Jan. 17/01 and Dec. 21/00.