CRTC hearings convened on Tuesday in Gatineau QC to decide whether the must-carry status some specialty channels have enjoyed in the analog world will continue on into the digital future.While the majority of services applying for digital basic carriage on digital distribution systems are going concerns that have been included as part of Canadians' basic cable or DTH packages for some time, other hopefuls saw Notice of Public Hearing 2007-1 as an opportunity to press for their as-yet unlaunched services to be added to the digital basic tier as well.One such channel is the Métis Michif Television Network (MMTN), which is devoted to the history and heritage of the country's approximately 292,000 self-identified Métis. "The Métis are in the Constitution, and for some reason we've fallen short of the Broadcasting Act," said Kenneth Schaffer, president of Regina's Metcom Productions Inc. and the force behind MMTN, referring to the fact that Métis stories are seldom told in broadcasting.While MMTN received a Category 2 licence in Decision 2002-345, it has yet to launch. Schaffer told the commission that BDUs - which he referred to as "gatekeepers of the broadcasting undertakers" - are less than enthusiastic about carrying his channel.In fact, with Aboriginal People's Television Network (APTN) already holding down a 9(1)(h) slot on analog cable since 1999, Schaffer said BDUs "have used APTN as a sword against the Métis people." He intimated that cable and DTH providers have seen APTN as satisfying their obligations to carry a service aimed at aboriginal communities, and therefore have declined to carry his MMTN to date.Commissioner and vice-chair of telecommunications Richard French pointed out to Schaffer that he had built MMTN's application for digital basic carriage around a wholesale rate of 15 cents based on national BDU subscription figures of 10.3 million, a number French noted erroneously included analog systems as well. "You have roughly half the subscribers you counted on in your business plan - this means half the revenue," he said.Schaffer also seemed to have some trouble convincing commissioners that his service would indeed be effective in promoting Métis culture, especially where the dying Michif language - now spoken by less than 2% of the Métis population, according to Schaffer - was concerned. Up to 80% of MMTN would be broadcast in English, which Schaffer referred to as "the first language of the Métis," with approximately 10-15% in French and the rest in Michif.That large English-speaking audience, coupled with MMTN's licence to carry programming across all categories, prompted French to observe that MMTN is operating "in a very big category."Another service that drew questions from some commissioners over its seemingly broad mandate is Canada One TV, a currently unlicensed service proposed by a coalition of television producers and broadcast executives.Paul De Silva, a partner in Canada One parent Diversity Television Inc. and a former VP of programming for VisionTV, told the commission that the proposed English-language general-interest channel "will be a place for Canadians of all racial backgrounds" and will reflect Canada's growing ethno-cultural diversity with a drama-heavy programming mix.That focus on drama - one of the most expensive genres to produce - necessitates both mandatory digital distribution and a 50 cents per subscriber per month wholesale rate in all markets, De Silva added. "Making the kinds of programs we need obviously costs money," he said.But like French with MMTN, Ontario commissioner Rita Cugini had questions about the general nature of Canada One. She observed that it would be an English-language mainstream service, drawing from a number of genres with a drama focus, but would be unique largely because it has a mandate to promote diversity. "Are you asking us to add a new genre to the range of specialty services," she asked De Silva, adding that he and his fellow interveners could certainly make such a request.Another commissioner, Barbara Cram, later rephrased the question. "Your nature of service is so wide, you could possibly morph into CTV," she told the interveners. She asked Diversity Television to consider how they might frame the nature of service for their proposed channel and then report back.Also drawing some concern was the ratio of original, never-before-seen programming versus programming acquired from other sources that might make up Canada One's Canadian content requirements. In its first year, the channel aims to air 63.5 hours of Canadian programming, with 23 hours of that being produced in-house. While the channel is still negotiating with diversity-friendly producers to provide it's programming, "our overall plan would be to have as few repeats as possible," De Silva assured the commission.Another digital carriage hopeful proposing mainstream viewing with a twist is the National Broadcast Reading Service (NBRS)'s Accessible Channel, a service proposing 100% open audio description of its programming for the visually impaired. John Stubbs of Stubbs Solutions, who prepared a report on behalf of the applicant, told the commission that less than 26% of the described audio programming made available by Canadian broadcasters is passed through to consumers by BDUs.NBRS vice-chair Gerald Weseen told the committee that the Accessible Channel is not intended "as a substitute or replacement for current broadcaster requirements for described video," but rather as a centralized, always-on home for such content that doesn't require the visually impaired to navigate text-based commands to activate the audio description.CTV Inc. president Rick Brace also appeared on behalf of NBRS to explain how his network would provide programming for the new service, an arrangement that raised fears of undue preference among other conventional broadcasters - most notably CanWest MediaWorks Inc. - during the submission stage (see "New services shouldn’t fall under digital migration policy, CRTC told, March 16).Commissioner Barbara Cram pointed out that CTV may be getting a discount on both the cost and the regulatory requirements associated with described video on its main national service due to its relationship with the Accessible Channel. "What's to stop CTV...from ordering shows undescribed and getting you to do it for free," she asked the applicants.The controversy around the application didn't end there: Commissioner Helen del Val probed the ties between the proposed channel, NBRS, and its related entity, AudioVision Canada, which has an effective monopoly on providing described video versions of Canadian productions to broadcasters. That relationship, along with language that broadcasters would make "best efforts" to use AudioVision Canada to create described video for their programming, gave rise to fears of a conflict of interest during the deficiency stage of NBRS' application."If I have every broadcaster entering into an agreement with you obliged under best efforts to use AudioVision, then it's tied up," noted del Val. However, the NBRS team agreed to eliminate that requirement if asked.Del Val also questioned the propriety of NBRS' plan to set up a charity to receive any surplus revenue from the Accessibility Channel, a proposal that would see NBRS have influence over how those funds get used to further the cause of accessibility. "I'd like it to stay in the channel, because that's what subscribers are paying for," she said.In contrast to the new channels applying for basic carriage in the digital world, the existing 9(1)(h) services appearing before the commission presented their cases with very little in the way of challenges."Vision TV has always been offered to Canadians as part of their basic cable service," said Bill Roberts, CEO and president of Vision parent S-Vox. "We therefore view this as a status quo application."Staffers at Pelmorex Communications - parent company of The Weather Network/MeteoMedia - portrayed their service providing vital information to all Canadians, and therefore meeting all of the commission's five requirements for carriage on digital basic. Furthermore, said senior VP of regulatory and strategic affairs Paul Temple, "if you take away basic carriage, the business model crumbles."The next phase of the hearing sees opposing and supporting interveners presenting their remarks, followed by comments from the applicants. Decima Reports will have more on the process as it unfolds.