Television “rabbit ears” are a thing of the past in Canada’s North, according to CBC/Radio-Canada, which plans to shut down free over-the-air CBC TV service in all but one community in the Northwest Territories.
Citing federal budget cuts, CBC and Radio-Canada will switch off 620 analogue transmitters it owns across Canada on July 31, all but eliminating free over-the-air television signals in Canada. It only plans to keep transmitters operating in major urban centres. Of the 13 transmitters in the NWT, only Yellowknife’s will remain operational. Forty-three transmitters are also being shut down in Alberta, leaving only Calgary and Edmonton transmitters.
The shutdowns will have a huge impact on the North, said Catherine Edwards, a spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS). She said in remote communities, 90 per cent of the population uses over-the-air TV service. CBC claims only 1.7 per cent of Canadians watch CBC/Radio-Canada using analogue signals, but Edwards puts that number at a 10 per cent average across the country.
“It’s the areas of the country that are already disadvantaged in active communications services that are going to get another hit,” Edwards told The Journal.
In the NWT, transmitters will be shut down in Aklavik, Deline, Fort McPherson, Fort Providence, Fort Resolution, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Inuvik, Norman Wells, Rae/Edzo and Tuktoyaktuk.
CACTUS believes the transmitters should be turned over to local communities that could – if they choose – manage the towers, rebroadcast CBC or develop their own programming. The towers were paid for with taxpayer money to bring CBC coast-to-coast in the 1970s, she added. Edwards accused the CBC of being too hush-hush about upcoming shutdowns and the public consultation process – a process that is coming to an end next week.
“The hot deadline is that if anybody wants to have any input, they have to have it to the CRTC by June 18,” Edwards said. “The CBC is not planning to run any PSAs or even tell the public until after that public consultation process is over.”
There is currently only hope for Hay River to retain its over-the-air CBC service. The Hay River Community (TV) Service Society currently re-broadcasts 12 radio stations for free over the air, as well as CBC French TV. Gary Hoffman, president of the society, told The Journal the society is in discussions with CBC to take over the equipment to continue broadcasting CBC television in English.
Hoffman said he believes the shutdown will also affect the over-the-air transmission of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) because CBC maintains APTN’s equipment in Hay River. The Hay River Community (TV) Service Society is in discussions with both CBC and APTN to assume control of the equipment and continue broadcasting the stations.
Edwards has other concerns about the transmitter shutdowns. In some communities, the towers are also hubs for rural broadband and cellular service, which could be impacted, she said. CACTUS recommends the CBC repurpose rural towers for broadband.
CBC had planned to shut down all its analogue transmitters over time in a measured transition to digital signals, but the Crown corporation says cutbacks accelerated the process. CBC expects to save $10 million annually by 2013-2014 by shutting down the transmitters this summer.
Anyone interested in writing the CRTC about the loss of CBC analogue service can visit www.friends.ca/free_cbc. or www.openmedia.ca/lifeline.