Canada is unprepared for switch to digital TV

Many Canadians, especially those who watch American television, have heard about the switch from analogue to digital TV broadcasts that is scheduled to take place in the United States on February 17. While John Podesta, cochair of Barack Obama’s transition team, asked lawmakers in letters on January 8 and 16 to delay the changeover because millions of viewers aren’t prepared, it was still scheduled to go ahead as planned when the Georgia Straight went to press.

According to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the switch “will free up the airwaves for police, fire, and emergency rescue communications, allow broadcasters to offer programming with better picture and sound quality and offer more programming choices, and allow for advanced wireless services”. It will also generate revenue for the U.S. government, which is auctioning off sections of the broadcast spectrum to telecommunications and Internet companies.

Broadcasts originating in Canada won’t be affected, and Canadians with analogue cable TV will still be able to watch American channels. However, Canadian viewers who receive American TV broadcasts “over the air” with a rabbit-ear antenna will no longer be able to watch U.S. networks without a digital-to-analogue converter. Although they’re not commonly used in Canada, converters are available at one local big-box retailer for $89.99.

Canada’s digital conversion, scheduled for August 31, 2011, could prove to be even more problematic than the American switch. Ian Morrison, spokesperson for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, told the Straight that the lack of a clearly defined transition plan will cause trouble for over-the-air viewers.

“The private sector doesn’t care very much about the over-the-air people because—and one could say I’m being cynical, but I’m just explaining it from an economic point of view—they tend to be lower-income, so they’re not as important to the advertisers, and of course their business is to deliver audiences to advertisers,” Morrison said by phone.

Morrison added that when over-the-air viewers “all of a sudden find out in 2011 that they can’t get television anymore—and many of these people are voters—all hell’s going to break loose”.

According to BBM Nielsen estimates for 2008–2009, 9.6 percent of households in Canada receive television broadcasts over the air. (The figure is only seven percent in Vancouver but rises to 13.5 percent for Francophone Quebeckers and 15.3 percent for Francophone Montrealers.) The switch could deny more than 1.25 million Canadian households access to what the Broadcasting Act of 1991 calls “a public service essential to the maintenance and enhancement of national identity and cultural sovereignty”.

“This is predominantly momentous for those Canadians whose literacy or household income prevents ready access to print media or Internet resources”¦this is not only a cultural problem but could manifest itself as one that concerns public safety and education as well,” states the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre in a May 2008 submission to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

In the U.S., the government is issuing two digital-converter coupons, each worth US$40, to households that request them, underwritten with the proceeds from the broadcast-spectrum auctions. Unfortunately, the program ran out of funding earlier this month, resulting in a waiting list and prompting the Obama team’s bid to push back the transition date.

Although the U.S. plan is flawed, Canada has nothing even approaching that in the works. In an e-mail response to an interview request, Stéfanie Power, a spokesperson for Industry Canada—which is overseeing the digital switchover—said that at this time, the government has no plans to subsidize the purchase of converter boxes.

Although the CRTC failed to respond to an interview request, the commission’s chair, Konrad von Finckenstein, has publicly expressed apprehension. “Undoubtedly, Canadian consumers will expect similar assistance, especially once the U.S. plan receives wider promotion over the airwaves,” he said in a June 2008 speech at the Broadcasting Invitational Summit in Cambridge, Ontario. He added, “Frankly, I am surprised that neither the industry nor its various umbrella groups have raised this issue more forcefully.”

With no government movement toward a U.S.–style voucher system, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre proposed low-cost basic cable as a solution in its May 2008 CRTC submission. In a telephone interview, executive director Michael Janigan described the organization’s proposal as “a limited basic-service package available at a reasonable price which would include the existing local channels plus the must-carry stations that they currently have, and that it would be price-capped”.

While broadcast-spectrum auctions in the U.S. have raised nearly US$20 billion, there has been little public discussion of the subject in Canada. In her e-mail, Power said that about 20 percent of the freed-up spectrum will be used by “public safety services”, while the rest will be allocated for commercial use after “future consultations”.

While there’s probably a fair bit of hedging going on—waiting to see what happens with the American switchover—it does appear that Canada is in poor shape to successfully effect a digital switchover in two-and-a-half years.

“Ultimately, there’s a political dimension to this, that they’ll wake up and there’ll be an ”˜uh-oh’, which might lead to a deferral of the conversion,” Morrison said. “Who’s going to pay the capital costs? That was always a problem, but especially now that access to capital is hurt by the economic downturn. So I’m a skeptic on 2011.”

Comments (12) Add New Comment
The "Over the Air" (OTA) Rabbit Ear users in the upper Georgia Basin were greeted with a shock last October when the tower that rebroadcast CBC and CityTV burned down under 'suspicious' circumstances and they lost the only TV channels that came in clearly in this area.

The OTA users in the upper Georgia Basin were even more shocked when they learnt this December that the CBC didn't think that they were important enough to rebuild the transmitter for, as there were 'only a hundred or so people affected by the outage' suggesting that we wait until they build their new digital network sometime in 2011 before there would be a restoration of Television service in this area.

There are many people who have been left standing looking at dark TV screens with NO other options for a signal. No Cable or ADSL availability, not able to obtain a satellite signal, un- or under employed and not able to afford cable or sat service or not willing to subject themselves to channel after channel of Infotainment, Entertainment TV and Fashion TV shows.

There are thousands of CBC supporting taxpayers and their children in places on Quadra, Cortes, Stuart, Maurelle, Savory, Hernando, Texada, Lasqueti, Hornby & Denman Islands and places like Desolation Sound, Lund, Powell River, Fanny Bay, Union Bay, the greater Comox Valley up to and including Campbell River who have been affected by this outage. People on boats & oyster leases, in camps and in towns without any TV signal what-so-ever who have no alternatives for a television signal except via Over The Air reception.

When Canada goes digital in 2011 you very well may lose your TV signal because there may not be any provision made to continue providing an OTA signal to those of you who receive the signal on your rabbit ears for free.

I have heard from my American Friends that just because the OTA TV signal is Digital doesn't mean that we can necessarily get it. It isn't like analogue where if the signal if poor then the picture just degrades and gets fuzzy and has ghosts, With Digital the signal is either perfect or there IS no picture. And they say that trees moving back and forth and people moving about in the room can be enough to degrade the signal and cause pixilation and / or loss of picture.

I have further heard from my MP John Duncan that these 40 year old towers are falling down all around the country (my guess would be from lack of maintenance) and the CBC is not going to replace any of its old analogue network. And the CBC has also admitted that they do NOT have a plan on how they are going to implement the new Digital Network AND they do not want to go it alone and supply OTA Digital signals if the other networks don't have to share some of the burden of the cost of rebuilding the infrastructure.

So there is nothing to say that your OTA rabbit ear service will be maintained until the digital network is up and running if your analogue service should happen to go out..

Complain to the following addresses and don't forget to send a copy to me at if you signal has died due to the outage from the Cumberland Rebroadcasting tower as we are trying to get a good count on the number of people affected by this outage so that we may be able to persuade the CBC to move UP their deadline for going digital in our Upper Georgia Basin. Let me know what area you live in and how many are affected and also if I can forward you emails on to the media and politicians.

If you want to keep your over the air OTA Television service in the 'New and Improved Digital Age' © ® then be sure to let the CBC, The CRTC, your other TV signal providers and YOUR politicians, (local and long distance) know that you want all the broadcasters to provide free OTA service to all areas when the new digital service is implemented.

Or you are going to lose it for sure. Squeaky wheel and all that.

Thank YOU for taking the time to read this far, now please take a min. or two more and contact someone, they say mayors are good and get them to ask good hard questions about When is the service being implemented, What is happening with it, have the applications been filed yet and the like.

And please don't forget to include the link to this great Georgia Strait article about whether we are ready to switch to Digital TV.

grant gordon

CBC/Radio-Canada - English Services
Audience Relations
250 Front Street West
P.O. Box 500, Station A
Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6
1-866-306-INFO (4636) Toll-free
416-205-6688 (TDD)

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0N2
1-877-249-CRTC (2782) Toll free
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website (English):
website (English language complaints):
Rating: -1
I was thinking of getting bunny ears for the t.v. I guess that would be a waste of money now. I am one of the underemployed. :(
Rating: -11
OTA Viewer
Forget the cheapo bunny ears. Spend the money and buy an RCA amplified antenna and in Vancouver I get free HDTV!
Rating: -5
i have a 13 in analogue tv in case of an emergency that i can power it with my portable generator. it would be a good idea to get a signal with my rabbit ears what good is digital with no signal from the lines think about it we need those transmitter stations. and yes i know they will say use a radio good idea but a tv even better. vancouver bc
Rating: +2
OTA Burnaby BC
Its progress people, you can't fight technology. You are getting VASTLY improved quality (OTA HD in 5.1 sound is jaw dropping) all for free. The trade off is you have to put in some more effort at your end, including buying the appropriate antenna for your location, and for the channels you have a "realistic" chance of receiving. That will typically mean getting an outdoor antenna, though many are small enough to fit in your attic or a small bedroom closet.

Unless you live in a high rise apartment, forget about the rabbit ears, and crappy indoor antenna's that are little better than using a coat hangar, and pay a bit more to get at least a small outdoor one. Installed on the roof is best, the attic your 2nd option, or a small closet 3rd, if having the antenna out of sight is required.

I recently purchased a small DB4 bow tie antenna for $50 and get 17 channels (12 of which will be HD next year) with it installed in my attic in Burnaby BC. A higher gain 91XG antenna is going on the roof ASAP, which could give me a fighting chance to bring in 20-26 digital channels after the Canadian conversion is completed next year. Of these channels, 6-12 will be from Seattle over 114 miles away.

Regarding the comments about the interference from people walking around in the room, they must have one of the low quality indoor antenna near the TV. I have never had ANY reception problems EVER from people moving around my living room.

For people who are serious about getting free OTA digital TV , the 2 websites below are invaluable for learning more on this subject:

Excellent Canadian Website on all things OTA

Fantastic website to help find the channels you can expect to receive at your location. This will help in choosing antenna.

PS, I do understand and sympathies with people from rural areas who could lose their analog reception after August 2011, if the analog channel is turned off, and no digital channel is used to replace it. This is where writing letters to your local MP or CRTC might be helpful.
Rating: +1
OTA digital for the win! You guys who are complaining about it are insane. If all the analogue OTA switched to digital and broadcast at the same power, all you naysayers will be in seventh heaven when you see the crystal clear broadcast in 5.1 sound.

"It isn't like analogue where if the signal if poor then the picture just degrades and gets fuzzy and has ghosts, With Digital the signal is either perfect or there IS no picture."

With a digital signal, even if signal strength is low, you will still get a perfect picture, so you don't have to put up with the fuzzies. However, if the digital signal is intermittent (drop outs), the picture will stutter.

To compare, if the digital signal can't be watched because of frequent dropouts in reception, it will be like an analogue signal that is so fuzzy that you wouldn't bother watching.
Rating: +4
Steve Lloyd
As a T.V. and video Tech for many years I can sympathize with many of the comments about how confusing the new digital tv sounds. Like many new things in the electronics industry the layman has to sort thru so much sales hype and misleading info. As a tech my comment is DON'T panic. try to get your info on the new digital signal from a non beauacratic sorce. yes there will be confution and mystery. there always is with new stuff, but the sooner the better so our technology sector is up to date with the rest of the world.
In places in the states the HD signals on rabbit ears is good enough to prompt people to get rid of their cable and save money. it could happen here but who is stopping it. it sure isn't the technicians.
good luck
Rating: +8
grant gordon
so where are we at in this now? I'm the guy who started this comment thread.

I haven't had a signal for so long now I forget what it is like to watch TV.

Not a bad thing though. I have MUCH more time for raising political sh*t now. They should have kept the TV signal coming.

grant gordon
Rating: +3
I have been OTA HD on my Flat Screen 1080p with CBC, Global, CTV, + Reg Def Ch. 17 from Victoria & Omni for the last 4 years :).

Cost of Flat Antenna = $21, Savings of $50 ++ per month on Cable/Satellite.

Stream ANY Shows & Live Sports in HD via Net :).

Don't be a Sheep and pay for Cable :) [I used to be an Exec at the Cable Co., they flush your $$$ for great Fun :) ].
Rating: +3
Randy Zarowny
As of this date, we're getting 8 digital HD channels in North Vancouver, the hockey was outstanding in HD.
So in the Vancouver area, point your antenna to Mt.Seymour for 5 HD channels, and to Orcas Island between Sidney B.C. and Bellingham Washington for 2 more.
And as suggested above and are a good source of OTA HD TV info!
Rating: -5
I built an antenna out of a chunk of wood and some metal coat hangers (no joke!) and get 5 OTA HD channels. Cost me about $3 total to build. F*ck rabbit ears. Google it.
Rating: +1
its all the cable subscribers that should have cut there services when they pulled this shit now look when you lose you job u lose your cable We all control cable companies and we can control them but you like the high rates and bs these companies pull.
Rating: 0
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