The CBC and its French language counterpart Radio-Canada will shut down its 623 analogue transmitters countrywide today. The broadcaster claims that it will save $10 million annually, starting in 2013-2014, without reducing its amount in local programming.
July 30 is also the last day for analogue television broadcasts by TVO, the Ontario government's educational television network, from Hawkesbury in the east to Sault Ste. Marie, via 14 medium/high power sites. Both broadcasters have continued analogue over the air transmission in smaller markets since September 1, 2011, when major centres converted to digital HDTV.
Meanwhile, CACTUS (Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations) has been lobbying the CBC to offer the towers and transmitters to communities which will otherwise lose free over the air (OTA) broadcasting, and thus be obliged to purchase television programming from cable providers, if in fact available, or from satellite services. "Community rebroadcasting is already a reality for more than 100 Canadian communities," Cathy Edwards told Marketnews. Edwards, who is CACTUS' spokesperson, noted that Valemont, BC, population of 1,400, rebroadcasts six TV channels, including a local community channel, and three radio channels. Residents pay $40 per household per year for the service."
Edwards added that the large network of CBC transmission and repeater towers was built in the late 1970s to provide over-the-air CBC television programming for all Canadian communities with over 500 people. She further mentioned that the towers were built at great expense with public money, and that the $10 million annual savings projected by the CBC account for only about 0.5 per cent of its annual budget.
CACTUS, emphasized Edwards, is not seeking to halt the switch to digital broadcasting, only to give communities the chance to maintain free OTA TV by maintaining the analog transmitters themselves, or to use the towers to provide other communications services, such as wireless high speed Internet, cellular service, or community TV or radio. "One $50 digital analogue converter on a tower plus one satellite subscription could enable the community to continue analogue OTA broadcasting.
"Plus," she continued, "if the community wanted to upgrade to digital broadcasting, a multiplex (MPX) system could provide eight to ten channels." The benefits of retaining the towers go beyond access to TV programming, she said. "One digital transmitter could provide access to high speed wireless Internet as well. The towers themselves can also be used for cellular phone service. These are things that many of these communities do not have yet."
TVO, according to Edwards, has offered almost 200 of its towers so far to the communities which they served. It is encouraging the communities to use them for other services such as high speed Internet.
The CBC, said Edwards, has been non-committal about handing over its towers at what it terms less than market value. "We've always said that we wouldn't be able to continue broadcasting analogue television signals forever," said Steven Guiton, CBC's VP & Chief Regulatory Officer, "given the obsolescence of analogue technology and its disappearance throughout the world."
Guiton stated that only 1.7 per cent of the Canadian population still received CBC/Radio-Canada television signals via an analogue, over-the-air transmitter. Supposedly only five per cent in total watch OTA broadcasts in either analogue of digital, the other 95 per cent subscribing to cable or satellite. Note that CBC figures do not list Internet TV figures. It termed the seven per cent of Canadians without televisions "tuned-out."
In asking permission from the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) to decommission its analogue services, the CBC claimed that the manufacturing of over-the-air transmitter parts ceased in 2007. It also claimed that such parts now command a premium of 30 to 100 per cent. Between the CBC Radio-Canada, they will maintain 27 digital television transmitters, meaning viewers outside major urban centres will have to sign up with satellite or cable services. Or stream via the Internet. Or tune-out.
"Or," concluded Edwards, "if they take CACTUS' advice, ask to maintain their own transmitters and towers."
Stay tuned, if you have access.