Thank-you for contacting our office regarding the availability of "over-air" access to CBC television in the Comox Valley since the transmission tower was destroyed.
We met with a senior member of CBC regarding this matter and through the course of this conversation we learned the following:
- The mandate for CBC, according to section 3 (1)(m)(vii) of the Broadcasting Act, is that programming "be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose".
- In the late 1970s the government launched a program to extend the broadcasting infrastructure across the country. During this time most of the CBC's transmission towers, including the one in the Comox Valley, were built.
- These towers are, for the most part, nearing the end of their life. Although the Comox Valley tower was destroyed as a result of vandalism, many similar towers have simply fallen down.
- The decision to not replace any of these towers is mostly due to the fact they use analog technology. Since CRTC has mandated that all broadcasting signals will be digital by 2012, any analog towers, regardless of age, will be obsolete at that time.
- The Comox Valley tower was insured, but since the cost of replacing the tower would far exceed the value that it was insured for (by an estimated $300,000), and since a new tower would only be good for three years at most, the CBC does not believe that a business case exists for replacing the tower.
- The CBC has looked at other options such as upgrading the Texada tower for TV or boosting the Campbell River tower, but they do not believe that these are viable (due to technology constraints, not cost constraints).
- There are some cases where they are replacing analog towers with digital towers, but these tend to be in large metropolitan areas where they know there are a lot of over-air users and where the only other over-air signals are American. Other Canadian networks, including those that currently have analog transmission towers, are unlikely to build any digital transmission towers because of the steady decline in over-air users in Canada (currently at %10 nationally and projected to decline).
The CBC has tried to make its programming available to the public in as many ways as possible using available technology. Over-air use is declining and expected to continue to decline as technology changes. Increasing numbers of Canadians are accessing CBC programming through cable, satellite and high speed internet. However, the CBC is well aware that there are many over-air users that simply cannot access their programming by any other means.
Although they cannot make a business case for replacing the transmission tower at this time, they did express concern about access to CBC programming in the Comox Valley. They were particularly interested in knowing more about the scale of response from our constituents. Although they know the approximate number of over-air users in Canada, they do not know how these numbers break out regionally and so do not know the number of over-air users in a specific area like the Comox Valley. As a result they have based their business case on national numbers that may or may not reflect the actual use in the Comox Valley.
It appears that CBC has made a responsible decision based on the information and technology available to them. However, there are avenues by which the public could further inform the debate. These include:
- Public advocacy to the CBC for replacement with a digital tower. Currently the CBC does not know how many over air users there are in the Comox Valley and an organized response from the public could help better inform their decision. There is no guarantee that this would result in a digital tower being built, but it would ensure that the CBC's decision reflects actual use rather than use inferred by national averages.
- Public advocacy to the CRTC to mandate a "free" tier for satellite and cable providers. CBC has advocated in the past that such a tier be provided so that their programming, as well as that of other public broadcasters, can be provided free of charge to Canadians through modern transmission systems.
If you wish to contact the CBC or the CRTC, their contact information is as follows:
CBC/Radio-Canada - English Services
250 Front Street West
P.O. Box 500, Station A
Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6
1-866-306-INFO (4636) Toll-free
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
1-877-249-CRTC (2782) Toll free
1-877-909-CRTC (2782) Toll free TTY
website (English): http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/contactus.htm
website (English language complaints): http://www.crtc.gc.ca/RapidsCCM/Register.asp?lang=E
My office will remain in contact with the CBC and update them on any complaints that we receive, but I believe that public engagement directly with the CBC and the CRTC is the most effective means of moving this issue forward.
John Duncan, M.P.
Vancouver Island North
Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development