There’s no longer a CTV television transmitter in Wiarton, Ont. And all because of a dispute with a neighbour that started with an apparent misunderstanding over the cutting of trees.
The story is contained in an application owner Bell Media filed with the CRTC on July 10 to revoke the broadcasting licence of CKCO-TV-2, a 100kW transmitter in Wiarton, which is on the Bruce Peninsula separating Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. It’s one of two retransmitters of CKCO-DT in Kitchener. The other is in Oil Springs, Ont., covering Sarnia.
As Bell tells it, it has had trouble accessing the transmission tower, even though it owns the land the tower sits on, because the access road to it is on property owned by a neighbour. For years, there was a verbal agreement with that property owner to access the site using his road (which leads to a street officially called Tower Road). But three years ago, the property was sold. The new owner had a falling out with Bell after “Bell Media rightfully prevented the new owner from cutting trees located on our property.” In January 2014, the new owner demanded Bell pay $1,000 a month to use his road, plus $34,000 in back pay going back to when he originally purchased the land.
Naturally, Bell thought this was a ridiculous sum and offered to pay $5,000 a year, with no back pay. The owner refused, and so Bell could no longer get a vehicle to its tower.
The next month, the power went out at the tower. Bell discovered a serious fault in the electrical system which required a series of repairs, but again the owner of the road denied access. Bell’s only access to the tower was through a tiny strip of land connecting its land to the road. Which meant travelling on foot. And since this was February in rural Ontario, this meant going by snowshoe.
Without the ability to fix the electricity, the diesel backup generator stopped working and CKCO-TV-2 went off the air.
Other than the TV transmitter, there’s only one other tenant, Spectrum Communications, a company that provides two-way radios and other specialized communications for businesses and institutions. It pays $14,000 a year until its lease expires in August 2015, which isn’t enough to justify the $91,000 a year it costs to run the tower and its transmitters.
So Bell has decided to give up on the 230-metre-high tower and hand back the licence for CKCO-TV-2. It’s unclear if they plan to sell the tower, dismantle it or do something else.
What is clear is that there are no plans to move the transmitter elsewhere. Bell said the station received fewer than 30 calls about CKCO-TV-2 being off the air for almost half a year, and that the number of residents who don’t have access to subscription television is so low there’s little reason to jump through so many hoops to keep it running.
But didn’t they promise?
What’s interesting about this to me is that, as part of Bell Media’s commitments to the CRTC in its acquisition of Astral Media, the company promised to keep its conventional TV stations on the air until 2017:
BCE stated that local television stations continue to struggle, particularly in smaller markets, and committed to keep open until 2017 all of its current conventional television stations as well as the two television stations acquired from Astral (CJDC-TV Dawson Creek and CFTK-TV Terrace), and to maintain the current levels of local programming for all of these stations. The Commission is of the view that the continued operation of these conventional television stations is critical to providing Canadians with access to a significant amount of locally relevant programming, to the overall benefit of the Canadian broadcasting system. These are important commitments from BCE given the many financial and operational challenges faced by conventional television stations. But for these commitments, the Commission would not have approved the transaction. As a result, the Commission directs BCE to adhere to these commitments.
Now, CKCO-TV-2 isn’t a television station. It’s a transmitter. And CKCO Kitchener is still running. So Bell is respecting the letter of this commitment. But I wonder if the CRTC shouldn’t have exceptionally opened this request to public comment in light of that commitment, so that others could argue whether or not Bell is respecting the spirit of its engagements.
That said, you can hardly argue that Bell didn’t try in this case (though I haven’t talked to the neighbour, who might have a different side to this story). $1,000 a month to access 450 metres of dirt road once in a while is ridiculous, and a tower that costs six times what it earns is even more so.
Full text of Bell’s application:
CKCO-TV-2 is an analog rebroadcasting transmitter for CKCO-DT Kitchener, and is located near Wiarton on the Bruce Peninsula. Bell Media owns the property on which the transmitter is located. We have one tenant on our tower – Spectrum Communications – whose lease expires in August 2015. The annual revenue generated from the lease is $14,000. The annual expenses associated with the property and the transmitting tower is $91,000. There is no incremental revenue generated through the operation of this transmitter. Furthermore, due to hydro issues, the transmitter has not been operational since 26 February 2014. The grounds for our application to revoke the licence are set out below.
The property directly adjacent to the transmitter site is owned by a resident of Wiarton, purchased three years ago from the original owner. The only road access to the transmitter site is via the adjacent property. Bell Media had a long-standing verbal agreement in place with the previous owner to access the transmitter site via the adjacent property.
However, access to our transmitter site has become virtually impossible due to an ongoing dispute with the new owner of the adjacent property. Beginning in January 2014, as a result of a dispute in which Bell Media rightfully prevented the new owner from cutting trees located on our property, the new owner demanded that Bell Media pay fees in order to access the road to the transmitter site–$12,000 annually. In addition, the new owner demanded “back rent” to the time when the property was purchased in August 2011—an additional $34,000. While Bell Media felt the payment requested by the new owner was excessive, as a gesture of good faith we proposed to offer the new owner the sum of $5000 annually going forward, with no retroactive payment. The owner refused the offer, and informed Bell Media that we would no longer have access to the road leading to the transmitter site.
Due to a general power outage in the area that occurred in February 2014, hydro was cut to the transmitter site. On 24 February 2014 the new owner granted Bell Media permission to access the site via his property to investigate the hydro situation. On 25 February 2014, ascertaining that we needed to schedule visits from electricians as well as the power company and inspectors, we requested permission from the new owner to schedule a future visit for tradespeople to cross his property. The new owner denied the request, and therefore the transmitter could only operate on a diesel backup generator. On 26 February 2014, the backup generator ceased to function and again the new owner denied access to the transmitter via his property.
On 27 February 2014 Bell Media technicians accessed the transmitter site via a strip of land connecting it to a county road; the only way to access the site was via snowshoes traversing through deep snow. Upon examination, we discovered a serious fault in the hydro system limiting the amount of electricity reaching our facility. While we now receive enough hydro to heat the building and maintain operation of our tenant’s low power wireless system, the significant loss of electricity no longer allows us to operate the CKCO-TV-2 analog rebroadcasting transmitter.
Subsequent to 27 February 2014, the new owner demanded that Bell Media build a fence along the property line and applied to the municipality to have an audit conducted on the property. This audit was conducted in May 2014, and Bell Media was notified that we are legally required to build and pay for fencing along 50% of our property line bordering the adjacent property at a cost of more than $60,000.
Finally, we would like to point out that the number of people who actually watch CKCO-DT over-the-air via this analog rebroadcasting transmitter is very small, as evidenced by the limited correspondence received as a result of the transmitter shut down (less than 30 telephone calls). In light of the limited number of calls received coupled with the costs to operate and an absence of revenue associated with this transmitter, and the almost non-existent ability to access the transmitter site combined with the ongoing lack of hydro power as set out above, Bell Media respectfully requests that our application to revoke the licence of the rebroadcasting transmitter CKCO-TV-2 Wiarton be approved.