Amend the Broadcasting Act to strengthen Canada’s broadcasting services, not to regulate social media sharing

A broadcasting receiving apparatus. July, 2011.

Dear Minister Guilbeault,

When I started this television distribution blog in May 2010, I never imagined a Minister of Canadian Heritage would one day seek to extend the CRTC’s powers to regulate the (audio-visual) user-generated content shared here as a form of broadcasting.

As a Canadian citizen, each post made via this WordPress blog (owned by foreign “media giant” Automattic Inc.) over the past 11 years has represented Canadian content.

If Canada aims to strengthen the creation and distribution of Canadian content in the digital age, a fine aim at that, the solution is not to regulate social media sharing of content by Canadians as an online undertaking. While extending the definition of broadcasting in the 1960s to include cable television, and later satellite television and IPTV, did serve to enhance both the quantity of Canadian programming produced and the levels of public/private funding directed toward the production of Canadian programming, Bill C-10‘s possible extension of the Broadcasting Act to include social media sharing as a form of broadcasting (in the hopes of similarly increasing the amount of CanCon online and the levels of funding contributed by online undertakings) is an ill-suited approach to achieving such ends.

Amending instead the Broadcasting Act to strengthen Canada’s existing broadcasting services when operating online, rather than extending broadcasting to include user-generated content, would better serve to ensure that a “range of broadcasting services in English and in French shall be extended to all Canadians as resources become available”.

Take care,

Steven

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Why is Bell Media transitioning its analogue CTV retransmitters in Banff, Canmore and Pigeon Mountain to digital?

CFCN-TV-131Pigeon Mountain transmitter site. Source: Google Maps.

CFCN-TV-13 Pigeon Mountain transmitter site. Source: Google Maps.

Dear Minister Guilbeault,

Happy 2021.

When I read on Steve Faguy’s excellent Twitter account that CTV was transitioning three of its analogue OTA TV retransmitters in Alberta to digital this week, I was curious to find out why Bell Media was opting to make the change to digital at the three broadcast sites. Why not just shut them down as part of CTV vacating the 600 MHz band as required by ISED’s ongoing repack of the spectrum?

While Bell Media will be shuttering CTV analogue retransmitters serving CFCN-TV-10 Fernie, CFCN-TV-15 Invemere and CFCNTV-9 Cranbrook in B.C., CFRN-TV-12 Athabaska, CFRN-TV-3 Whitecourt, CFRN-TV-4 Ashmount, CFRN-TV-5 Lac La Biche, CFRN-TV-7 Lougheed and CFRN-TV-9 Slave Lake in Alberta and CFQC-TV-1 Stranraer, CFQC-TV-2 North Battleford, CKMC-TV Swift Current and CKMJ-TV Marquis in Saskatchewan on February, 26, 2021 (as approved by the CRTC in 2019 via Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2019-268),  Bell will transition CFCN-TV-2 Banff, CFCN-TV-14 Canmore and CFCN-TV-13 Pigeon Mountain in Alberta to the ATSC digital OTA television broadcast standard on the same day.

In order to find out more about the move, I reached out to CTV Alberta Engineering and heard back from Dale Coutts C.E.T., Director, Engineering, IT and On Air Operations for Bell Media Inc / CTV Calgary / Bell Media Radio Calgary.

According to Coutts, CFCN-TV-2 Banff, CFCN-TV-14 Canmore and CFCN-TV-13 Pigeon Mountain have retained their value as retransmitters of CFCN-DT Calgary in the digital age for a number of reasons.

In terms of how CFCN-TV-2 Banff, CFCN-TV-14 Canmore and CFCN-TV-13 Pigeon Mountain even survived being shut down in 2011 as part of Canada’s 700 MHz digital television transition, Coutts noted the following today via a telephone interview:

“We felt even in 2011, there was still a lot of people who were watching analogue and that was their only form of television. Over the years, we have decommissioned many of our transmitters but we felt that in that area, being so close to Calgary and a lot of our advertising, or some advertising, still does come from Banff/Canmore area. We have a lot of Calgary people spending time, they have second houses or cottages in that area, we felt it was very important to keep things going in that area because of the closeness to Calgary…we do know that in the Canmore/Banff area, we do have significant amount of viewers there.”

With regards to the interest in investing in a transition to digital OTA at the three sites in 2021 as part of Canada’s 600 MHz transition, Coutts stated,

“We felt it was important to keep the viewers going in that area. And in our case, because these are very low power transmitters, for example, the Pigeon Mountain transmitter is only going to be a 1.5 watt transmitter. The Harvie Heights one, from memory, it’s going to be about 4.5 watts and Banff around 7.5 watts. So the technology that, or the price point, on replacing those transmitters as opposed to a 10,000 watt transmitter anywhere else is  extremely significant. We felt it made sense to replace, because there wasn’t going to be a huge capital involvement in keeping those areas going, that’s why we managed to find the capital to be able to keep them running.”

When asked how OTA TV access compares to watching television online or via cable or satellite, Coutts responded as follows:

“The type of people who live in that area traditionally don’t spend money on cable or satellite. A good percentage of them don’t. So if they can get it for free, they’ll take it for free. But I don’t think they would go out and specifically pay money to do that because it’s such a unique environment there that that’s just a different mindset for the folks who are in the area. There’s a lot of transitional people in the Banff area that support the seasonal industries. For example, skiing,  you get a lot of out of country people coming in to support, or be part of the support for the ski hills. So in their case, they tend to be people who are not going to invest a lot of money in anything other than perhaps having a TV that they might use for their computer. Double-duty and say, hey, for free, I get TV. And that’s, I would suggest that there’s quite a higher percentage of those sorts of people that would be interested in watching us that way.”

Coutts noted that the ERP at the three sites would be reduced “because digital is very much more effective” and the HAAT will remain unchanged.

While Coutts said there are no plans to multiplex subchannels from the newly digital transmitters, he noted that they are ATSC 3.0 ready if CTV Calgary ever transitions to the new standard.

“I’ve been doing this for many, many years. I’m 41 years and into my 42nd now”, said Coutts. “I’ve always been working on the transmitter side and I’m, this is one of those things where, the bucket list to be able to get this part of our coverage area to HD is very satisfying for me. The fact that we can continue serving our clients in that area and at much better quality than what they’re going to be able to get on cable or satellite.”

For those who watch CTV via CFCN-TV-2 Banff, CFCN-TV-14 Canmore and/or CFCN-TV-13 Pigeon Mountain, a rescan of an ATSC television or adapter box will be needed to continue viewing CTV Calgary (provided the new retransmitters reach your home).

Take care,

Steven

 

 

 

 

 

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Part 2: Attempting to transition from Shaw Direct’s no-fee LTSS to its $25 ‘Skinny Basic’ television package

Line of sight as of November 2020.

Dear Minister Guilbeault,

Writing to advise how a non-human actor enhanced my parents’ basic television service.

As detailed in my previous post, my parents begrudgingly signed up to a paid television service in August 2020 after losing no-fee basic TV service via Shaw Direct’s LTSS in late 2019, a service that my parents had signed up for in April 2012 after losing access to all but one no-fee over-the-air television station (Global TV’s analogue repeater CIII-TV-2 which continues to broadcast) due to Canada’s digital television transition of 2011-2012.

Unfortunately, my parents were not initially receiving all of the stations included in their ‘Skinny Basic’ satellite TV package from Shaw Direct since their dish could only link up with one of Shaw’s three satellite transponders.

However, as predicted by a Shaw Direct technician and at least one visitor to this blog, Mom discovered in October that my parents had gained access to most of the missing basic channels after the local trees dropped their leaves. Dad also reports that additional channels were gained after he cut down some trees this month. The channels gained are listed below.

Updated list of channel received.

Please thank Canada’s deciduous trees for helping to maintain seasonal basic television access in the digital age. Any suggestions on what to do come May would be greatly appreciated.

Take care,

Steven

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Part 1: Attempting to transition from Shaw Direct’s no-fee LTSS to its $25 ‘Skinny Basic’ television package

Shaw Direct technician pointing in the direction of the two satellites showing no reading.

Dear Minister Guilbeault,

Writing with an update on life after Shaw Direct’s LTSS.

After struggling through more than eight months of live TV options limited to a single analogue over-the-air (OTA) station (Global TV’s workhorse repeater, CIII-TV-2) and whatever no-fee legal television feeds would consistently stream via Xplornet satellite internet (not many) following the end of Shaw’s no-fee Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS), Dad opted last week to sign up for one of Canada’s mandated ‘Skinny Basic’ (officially named the “Affordable basic package”) TV subscriptions via Shaw Direct. Cable, IPTV and fixed-wireless television access is still not available across all of Ontario’s Addington Highlands and switching to a paid service with the same direct-to-home (DTH) satellite television provider behind the LTSS allowed reuse of a receiver currently sold on Shaw’s website for $149.99 in addition to reuse of the Shaw Direct dish.

Unfortunately, the switch to a paid DTH service is proving more difficult than anticipated. Currently, my folks are only receiving roughly a third of the TV stations promised by Shaw Direct. The stations listed below featuring red strikethrough are unavailable to my parents via Shaw Direct’s Eastern Ontario Skinny Basic package (lovingly named “Limited TV” by the company).

Red strikethrough indicates missing stations.

According to the Renfrew-based Shaw Direct technician who drove down to the May Communication Tree (a Sugar Maple, I believe) last week, the reason for the missing channels is that the receiving dish is unable to connect to two of the three satellites that Shaw Direct uses to beam TV and radio stations back down to earth.  The satellites used by Shaw Direct include Telesat’s Anik F2 (111.1° W), Anik F1R (107.3° W) and Anik G1 (107.3° W). The technician advised that the “two newest” satellites are lower in the sky and as such the receiving dish is unable to link up to them due to trees blocking the signal.

Based on the technician’s feedback and the coordinates of the satellites, it appears the dish is only receiving a downlink from Anik F2 launched in 2004 (F1R was launched in 2005 and G1 in 2013, according to Telesat’s website).  While Shaw Direct has historically used Anik F2 to beam back “mostly French and ethnic programming” broadcast by Canadian OTA television stations, it appears Shaw also uses Anik F2 to distribute some English language OTA TV stations (including the stations initially offered under its now defunct LTSS). The technician’s advice before leaving was to cut down additional trees so that the dish will be able to receive the missing stations located on Anik F1R/G1.

Dad’s been down this path before. Xplornet assigned him similar tree cutting instructions after the household experienced satellite internet reception issues last year. Cutting down additional trees didn’t make a difference and the issue actually turned out to be related to a faulty LNB on the Xplornet dish.

Whether Dad decides to cut down additional trees this summer to try to access Anik F1R/G1, hope for the best once the leaves fall, or just make do with substandard paid DTH access via Anik F2, this Skinny Basic scenario presents yet another example of how DTH satellite television delivery still can’t match the superior access qualities of OTA television broadcasting.

Take care,

Steven

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10th anniversary of Dude, Where’s My TV?

TVO’s CICO-DT-92 tower serving Cloyne, Ontario. Photo taken in April 2020.

Dear Minister Guilbeault,

May 15, 2010 marked the first post to this blog. At the time, I was primarily concerned about how Canada’s approach to its 700 MHz spectrum auction and transition to digital over-the-air (OTA) television might affect household access to OTA Canadian television.  10 years on and I’m still concerned about household access to OTA Canadian television, although this time it’s related to Canada’s auctioning and repack of the 600 MHz band.

While the past decade has seen the slow decline in cable and satellite TV subscriptions in Canada and rise of internet television streaming (thanks in large part to the launch of Netflix Canada at the end of 2010), OTA television viewing has held its own in Canada. While Media Technology Monitor reported 8% of Anglophone and 9% of Francophone Canadian households watched OTA television 10 years ago, by February 2020 7% of Anglophone and 8% of Francophone Canadian households were viewing OTA television. In addition, by 2020 MTM was also reporting that 76% of Anglo OTA TV viewers and 60% of Franco OTA TV viewers were supplementing their antenna television viewing with over-the-top (OTT) internet television viewing.

If Canadian OTA TV viewing has remained relatively steady over the past decade, why have Canadian television broadcasters such as CTV (Bell Media) and Global Television (Corus) requested (and received) permission from the CRTC to shutdown dozens of OTA television transmitters rather than moving them out of the 600 MHz band? The answer is that OTA television advertising revenue in Canada continues to decline. It’s important to remember then that while OTA television viewership has remained steady in Canada, the parent companies that own most of Canada’s OTA television stations aren’t making as much money via OTA as they used to and that’s why they’re reducing their number of transmitters following the 600 MHz repack.

That OTA television is no longer bringing in the sort of revenue that for-profit ownership groups (and their shareholders) expect from their Canadian media properties highlights the importance of public and educational television broadcasters such at CBC/Radio-Canada, Télé-Québec and TVO continuing to operate their OTA television transmitters. Public and educational television broadcasting serves the viewing public, not ownership groups.

After decimating its network of more than 600 OTA television transmitters down to just 27 following Canada’s 700 MHz transition, CBC/Radio-Canada has seemingly come to embrace the notion that the continued operation of its (or rather, Canada’s) OTA television transmitters serves the public interest.   While CBC/Radio-Canada has yet to announce any plans to commence OTA multiplexing or ATSC 3.0 testing, the public broadcaster did note in its 2020 licence renewal request to the CRTC that it has no plans to shut down any of its television (or radio) transmitters during its next licence period.   When asked to expand on this shift in attitude toward OTA, CBC/Radio-Canada’s Directeur, Ingénierie de la Transmission Charles Rousseau noted the following via email last week:

Over the air television is 100% free whereas internet and bandwidth cost money to people, we believe we better fulfil our role keeping those transmitter in the biggest
market in Canada and have the CBC/Radio-Canada signal available for everyone. With what happen internationally with COVID19 brings live news each day, it is a very good example on how linear TV is still relevant. Cord cutting is also happening in Canada, I
(personal opinion here) believe that people will not throw their tv set away but will simply connect a small antenna to it. All that said, I’m sure you have also observe that we are already full speed ahead in all digital platform.

Regards,

Steven

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Roger and Out (Good Buddy)

Dear Minister Guilbeault,

Congrats on your new appointment.

As you may know, Shaw Direct commenced the shutdown of its wildly successful no fee Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) program starting ~ November 5. By Shaw Direct’s ledger this represented more than nine weeks of bonus Groundhog Day TV for LTSS subscribers.

My hunch is that many Canadian households always knew it was a limited time offer but they took it anyway after Canada botched its 2011 digital television transition. As Graham Longford noted in 2008, spectrum matters.

According to a Twitter DM reply from Shaw Direct, the company’s target is to complete the LTSS shutdown by early December 2019.

Once settled into your new digs, if you’re able to please reach out to J.R. Shaw and see how your government might not only help to maintain but enhance television access to tens of thousands of LTSSers it would be greatly appreciated.

Regards,

Steven

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LTSS Groundhog Days?

Dear Minister Rodriguez,

As noted in my previous post, Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2019-267 suggested that Shaw Direct’s LTSS would continue until at least November 30, 2019.

After congratulating the CRTC and Shaw on the move, both replied that in fact the LTSS would end August 31, 2019. The CRTC then doubled-down with a special post on its website.

It’s now September 3 and (last I checked) the LTSS has yet to end. There’s been radio silence from the CRTC and Shaw on the matter.

Are these LTSS Groundhog Days? If so, what are we learning each day about how to regulate our broadcasting system in the digital age?

Please advise,

Steven

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Shaw Direct’s LTSS extended until at least November 30, 2019

Dear Minister Rodriguez,

Writing to advise that the CRTC administratively-renewed Shaw Direct’s licence today until November 30, 2019, “subject to the same terms and conditions as those in effect under the current licenc(e)”. This means that Shaw’s no-fee Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) program will continue until at least Nov 30th since the LTSS is part of the terms and conditions in effect under Shaw Direct’s current DTH (Star Choice) licence scheduled to expire August 31st.

This decision will help to maintain TV access to the 30,000+ Canadian households that subscribe to the no-fee LTSS. Still curious to hear what your plan is to maintain such no-fee household access to TV if changes are made to the LTSS after November 30.

Please advise,

Steven

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Shaw Direct planning to “terminate” its no-fee Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) August 31, 2019

Homemade LTSS sign in a New Brunswick corner store.

Homemade LTSS sign in New Brunswick. Photo credit: Fenwick McKelvey’s parents

Dear Minister Rodriguez,

Congrats on your 2018 appointment as Minister of Canadian Heritage.

Writing with regards to CRTC Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2019-107 that includes the licence renewal request by Shaw Direct (Star Choice Television Network).

As part of Shaw Direct’s licence renewal request, the direct-to-home (DTH) satellite distribution undertaking aims to terminate its no-fee Local Television Satellite Solution (#LTSS) by the end of August 2019.  Shaw Direct’s application notes that more than 31,500 Canadian households will be affected by the change.

Shaw Direct’s LTSS was approved by the CRTC in 2010 in order to allow Canadian households that lost access to over-the-air (OTA) television signals as a result of Canada’s 2011 digital television transition to continue to access Canadian television programming for no-fee.

What is your plan to maintain such no-fee television access by more than 31,500 Canadian households if the CRTC approves Shaw Direct’s plan? Will the Government of Canada fund the no-fee LTSS service instead?

Please advise,

Steven

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Part 2: Canada and ATSC 3.0

By TRauMa - Own work, CC0

By TRauMa – Own work, CC0

Dear Minister Joly,

Figured I’d follow up my previous post about how small Canadian television broadcasters are planning (if at all) for ATSC 3.0 with a post about what the Canadian television broadcasters “owned by large English ownership groups” are planning.

While the 2017 CRTC decisions regarding these broadcasters are currently being “reconsidered” by the CRTC, as you know, I imagine their ATSC 3.0 plans will remain unchanged.

Once again, these large Canadian television broadcasters are looking to the CRTC and ISED to take the lead on if/how they should be planning for ATSC 3.0.

Source: Call for licence renewal applications – Submission of renewal applications for television licences owned by large English- and French-language ownership groups that will expire in 2017.

Rogers: (City, OMNI 1, OMNI 2)

“Rogers currently has no immediate plans to transition to ATSC 3.0 as this new standard is currently undergoing testing. There will be a variety of impacts on Rogers as a broadcaster and on our viewers with the upcoming transition to ATSC 3.0:

  • The current standard (ATSC A/53) is incompatible with ATSC 3.0, which means that our viewers will need to buy new television sets when they become available.
  • There is a lack of readily available ATSC 3.0 devices in the market such as television sets and smart mobile devices.
  • There is currently a limited supply and selection of ATSC 3.0 broadcasting equipment.
  • Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) will need to develop a transition plan to support the migration to ATSC 3.0 as broadcasters will need to run both ATSC and ATSC 3.0 transmitters. This will be challenging as ISED also plans to repack the spectrum with the highest density.
  • Operational costs will double as broadcasters will be required to run both ATSC and ATSC 3.0 transmission facilities during a transition period to accommodate viewers.
  • It will be technically difficult and costly to retro-fit existing transmitter sites to support ATSC 3.0.”

Corus: (Global TV)

“ATSC 3.0 offers new opportunities in the delivery of scalable content to mobile and other devices. The ATSC 3.0 standard has not as yet, been finalized and as such Corus has no plans to transition. ATSC 3.0 is expected to be incompatible with the current ATSC 1.0 broadcast system. This will render obsolete any existing television receivers in the marketplace and require a significant new investment on behalf of the consumer. Corus participates in the CAB Technical Coordinating Committee (TCC) and the North American Broadcasters Association (NABA) and closely monitors the development of ATSC 3.0.

Furthermore, any near-future timeline for implementation of ATSC 3.0 standard completion would come soon after, or during, the time when Corus and other broadcasters would be implementing changes resultant from the release of a new channel and coverage plan prompted by the repacking of the 600 MHz spectrum, changes which themselves require significant recent spending of money and resources for transmission upgrades from analog to digital.

This issue is one that will need to be carefully managed by all industry stakeholders if the introduction of this new technology is to be successful.”

Bell: (CTV, CTV Two)

“We recognize that the next-generation ATSC 3.0 digital broadcast standard will offer enhancements and opportunities to meet consumers viewing habits across Bell’s various platforms. The over-the-air standard will enable Bell to transmit higher-quality 4K UHD video and immersive audio in the beginning with possible 8K support later in the future. It will give Bell the option to offer multiple channels within that single 6 MHz bandwidth.

As the standard is IP-based, ATSC 3.0 has the capability of broadcasting broadband content to smartphones and tablets as well as providing greater interactivity between the consumer and Bell by permitting viewers the chance to customize the type of content they want delivered, watch on-demand video, alternate video angles, audio language support and more. This will allow Bell to create new hybrid services and augment regular TV broadcasts with greater interactivity.

We also recognize that through ATSC 3.0, this will take emergency alerting to the next level by broadcasting features such as device wake up, maps, evacuation routes, video clips and more. These new capabilities will certainly enhance the current method that is limited to a text crawl on the bottom of your screen and an audio overlay.

Once ATSC 3.0 becomes an official standard, more effort will be placed on realizing its full potential on Bell’s existing platform. ATSC 3.0 will complement Bell’s existing services to our subscribers/viewers.”

Regards,

Steven

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