House Call with Carol Hughes

Will free TV be the next to go?

Changes to how Canadians receive over the air television may be in the cards just a few short years after the switch to digital signals were ushered in. Currently, a large chunk of rural and northern Canada access free TV under the terms of a deal between the Canadian Radio-television and the Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and the telecommunications company, Shaw Communications. Part of the deal requires Shaw to provide over the air service of free TV known as Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS). This service, which allows large portions of Canada to access basic channels like CBC Television, is set to expire at the end of August. Viewers in regions not serviced by Shaw should also be concerned if the CRTC allows this to go ahead since that will create permission for other providers to follow suit.

While Shaw says it has been “very proud” of the free television series LTSS, it also appears they are taking the first possible opportunity to abandon their obligations before negotiations for their next contract with CRTC have even started. Proof of that can be seen in how eager Shaw seemed to be announcing to the public they will soon be losing this service. But all of this will actually come into effect when, and only when, Shaw has negotiated their new deal with the CRTC.

That means people facing a loss of service will have to pay for a cable package or go without any TV service. But being able to access publicly funded television shouldn’t be a privilege only enjoyed by those who can afford it-it’s a right that should go to everyone. Part of the reason people pay taxes is so that we have these kinds of services. That’s why it doesn’t seem ludicrous to expect the government and their contractors hold up their end of the bargain.

This emerging issue has implications for problem areas that were created when analog TV signals were converted to digital. For many homes stuck in these dead zones, the LTSS provided by Shaw was the only way to access the public conversation that Canada was having over television waves.

For many, this will feel like just another instance of companies discontinuing services in rural Canada because it’s more convenient for them. It’s similar to the way Greyhound buses stopped servicing communities in the north, resulting in lost transportation opportunities across the region. That left people feeling stranded and unable to travel. Losing access to t.v. may leave them feeling isolated and uniformed.

Without a local TV option, people will naturally turn to the internet. But many of these same places still struggle to receive adequate services. In some cases, these are areas that may not have appropriate internet connectivity available for another decade or more. That’s too long for any area to be neglected for important services. It can impact or slow down access to information that can be important for people’s jobs, education, communication, or entertainment.

It’s clear that the people making the decisions that could cut off free television to rural Canada don’t understand the struggle to say connected outside of major centres. Living in a city shouldn’t be a prerequisite to access the services our taxes support. More so, if the CRTC allows Shaw to walk away from these responsibilities, will that make it easier for other companies to do the same?