Monday, May 09, 2011

CBC, DTV and Canada

I'm not going to get into a large technical discussion, because all the details can be found at the OTA Digital Forums on Digital Home. ca. I'm also not going to get deep into perceived political biases of the CBC.  This rather short post will  focus more on CBC's intentional failure to meet their mandate on Sept 1, 2011.

For a quick overview, on September 1st, horrible analog TV effectively dies in Canada and will be replaced by super awesome over the air high definition digital television. Some of you lucky people already have access to uncompressed HDTV, free of charge. Newer TV's are already set up for it, older TV's need a converter box. I think the only major centre without at least one over the air digital TV channel is Regina.

There are two things to take note of with the CBC, one is their mandate and the other is their plan for transition.

Mandate first, because the parts we are interested in are fairly self explanatory:

The Broadcasting Act (1991) states that the Canadian broadcasting system constitutes a single system and that the objectives of the broadcasting policy set out in subsection (1) can best be achieved by providing for the regulation and supervision of the Canadian broadcasting system by a single independent public authority.
The Act provides a mandate for all broadcasters, including CBC/Radio-Canada. It declares in Section 3:

(a) the Canadian broadcasting system shall be effectively owned and controlled by Canadians;

(d) the Canadian broadcasting system should:
     (iv) be readily adaptable to scientific and technological change;
(k) a range of broadcasting services in English and in French shall be extended to all Canadians as resources become available;
(m) the programming provided by the Corporation should
    (vii) be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and
What this says is that if you are Canadian, the CBC is mandated to provide their signal to you. You already own it, so you don't have to pay for it.  However, the mandated transition to digital TV will leave many Canadians without over the air access to CBC. The following cities aren't going to have CBC, but those residents will be paying for it, nonetheless.

  • Lethbridge
  • Saskatoon
  • London
  • Kitchener
  • Moncton
  • St. John

It's almost easier to say that CBC is keeping 3 stations in Quebec: Rimouski, Quebec City and Montreal. The rest are either being shut down or being left in the hands of those that operate CBC affiliates.

All of those cities and the surrounding areas will no longer have OTA CBC, even though they pay for it.  The CBC solution to this is to have people get cable or watch online.  That's unacceptable. What isn't understood is that right now, CBC literally covers the entire country with their analog setup.  So, because the CBC isn't mandated to do anything but change out mandatory markets, all those areas served by the repeater stations will not be converted.

One of the arguments being put forward in their plan in that 93% of Canadians get their TV from some kind of provider, so they won't be affected. That's not really the point, because it is a violation of their mandate to not provide service.  The number of people who use over the air exclusively is closer to 10%. The number who supplement their cable with OTA is probably closer to 20%, based on some preliminary numbers found at the first link.

Now, compare that with the private broadcasters. It is mandatory that they are digital by September 1st. It is also mandatory that they convert their transmitters to digital by 2016/ The national public broadcaster doesn't feel the need to service all Canadians. The private broadcasters have no option.  Doesn't that seem backwards?


  1. There was a ruling about CBC TV broadcast somewhere in B.C. a few years back. The CBC was shutting off a TV transmitter somewhere in the interior (Kamloops perhaps?) and the locals became restless. It was determined by the courts that the law only required the CBC to provide _radio_ service.

  2. Tell me again why we spend a billion dollars a year on the CBC?