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CanadaSmall city and rural Canadians could lose their free TV

20:16  13 may  2019
20:16  13 may  2019 Source:   cbc.ca

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The Local Television Satellite Solution that provided free service to Canadians who lost signals when TV transitioned from analog to digital in 2011 could end Shaw Communications has asked the CRTC for permission to cut off free television to tens of thousands of Canadians in small cities and rural

Small - city and rural Canadians could lose their free TV | CBC News. Shaw Communications has asked the CRTC for permission to cut off free television to tens of thousands of Canadians in small cities and rural areas.

Small city and rural Canadians could lose their free TV© (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press) Konrad von Finckenstein was chairman of the CRTC when Shaw's free satellite service was first implemented.

Shaw Communications has asked the CRTC for permission to cut off free television to tens of thousands of Canadians in small cities and rural areas, by ending a program meant to replace signals lost when broadcasters stopped transmitting analog signals eight years ago.

In a recent application to the CRTC, Shaw's home satellite service advised the broadcast regulator that it wanted to terminate the Local Television Satellite Solution, or LTSS.

The LTSS provided minimum access to Canadian television services, including CBC, Radio-Canada, CTV, Global and Citytv. It was only available for free if a household was located in an area that previously received over-the-air signals free of charge through an antenna, who then lost those signals in 2011 when transmission converted to digital.

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That conversion removed television service for rural Canadians across the country, and television viewers in both small cities and metro areas as large as Saskatoon or London, Ont.

Lethbridge, Alta., resident Doug Grisack is concerned he'll lose access to programming as a result of Shaw's request, unless he opens up his wallet for pay television service.

"Unless I'm willing to give up some of the rent money, I have to accept that I will no longer be able to receive, as a Canadian, CBC programming," said Grisack, who has sent his concerns to the CRTC as well.

"I think as a Canadian taxpayer, I should have some sort of access to the national programming of the CBC," said Grisack.

Service a condition of Shaw acquiring Global

Providing the free satellite service was part of a deal Shaw made with the broadcast regulator when it acquired Global TV in 2010. The CRTC required Shaw Direct (which was then branded Star Choice) to offer the program until its next licence renewal at the end of August 2019.

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Small city and rural Canadians could lose their free TV© Provided by Canadian Broadcasting CorporationThe "Local Television Satellite Solution" that provided free service to Canadians who lost signals when TV transitioned from analog to digital in 2011 could go away this year. (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

In filing for that licence renewal, Shaw indicated that it provided equipment and satellite service to more than 31,000 households and while it refused to confirm for the CBC how many Canadians are currently receiving signals, it said it voluntarily kept the program going for two years longer than the CRTC originally requested.

In a statement emailed to CBC News, Shaw said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on the LTSS while their application is in front of the CRTC.

Chunks of Canada losing access to basic, free television

Large portions of Canada will no longer have access to basic services such as CBC Television signals if this goes through, according to University of Calgary assistant professor Gregory Taylor.

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"You've got these dead zones as far as over the air television goes right now," said Taylor, who is an expert in Canada's conversion from analog-to-digital television. He is not advocating that the CRTC require Shaw itself to continue the LTSS, but believes it's important the federal regulator maintain basic TV access across the country.

Small cities like Kingston, Ont., Brandon, Man., Fort McMurray, Alta., and Kelowna, B.C., would be affected.

Small city and rural Canadians could lose their free TV© Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press Shaw's satellite arm is looking to end their free distribution of satellite to more than 30,000 households.

"The success of this program should show the CRTC that this demand exists," said Taylor. "The CRTC can be creative about this if they choose to make the effort to maintain it."

Taylor pointed out that the regulator has multiple sources of funding it can direct towards a program like the LTSS, similar to how the CRTC requires funding of Canadian television programming already.

Former chairman surprised by request

The past chairman of the CRTC from 2007-2012 told CBC News he was surprised to hear of Shaw requesting to kill the LTSS service.

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"I don't understand why they would not [continue]," said Konrad von Finkenstein, who oversaw the regulator during the analog-to-digital transition for broadcast signals and pointed out the LTSS service gave Shaw free advertising and access to potential customer homes across the country.

Small city and rural Canadians could lose their free TV© CBC Gregory Taylor is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary and says the CRTC can "be creative" to maintain the LTSS.

"The whole idea of broadcasting over-the-air is to give people free access to television," said von Finkenstein. "Just because we made a change in assigning the airwaves [converting to digital] it should not come at the expense of people who were enjoying free TV … before."

Shaw has sent advertisements to current LTSS clients offering them a two year discount on paid service, but according to customers including Doug Grisack, the company has not indicated what will happen if the CRTC refuses their request to discontinue the program.

The CRTC is accepting public comments on Shaw's application until May 13, 2019. Shaw said it would make its final submission to the regulator later in the month.

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