Keep your rabbit ears

The CRTC has rejected CBC’s bid to stop providing over-the-air (OTA) television in Saint John and Moncton. This is good news for television viewers in those cities who don’t subscribe to digital, cable or satellite services, since OTA viewers will continue to receive the television services their tax dollars pay for.

Unfortunately for all taxpayers, unless the CRTC provides an exemption to allow CBC Television to continue using analog signals in New Brunswick, the ruling will eventually require an expenditure of $6 million on new digital transmitters to service areas outside Fredericton. The move away from analog is being forced on broadcasters by the federal government (through both Industry Canada and the CRTC) in order to free up radio spectrum that will eventually be auctioned off to service providers offering wireless Internet coverage to the public and advanced mobile communications for commercial and public safety clients.

Industry Canada, the CRTC, the CBC and other television broadcasters need to work together to develop a broadcast strategy that will avoid wasteful expenditures while ensuring that citizens continue to have access to basic broadcast services without having to pay subscriptions to digital, cable and satellite providers. This is especially important for the CBC due to the social contract that exists with its taxpaying viewers in communities where low incomes limit access to subscription services for key populations. An extended exemption allowing broadcasters to continue to use largely empty spectrum in New Brunswick would be one solution, particularly if combined with greater availability of streaming Internet content and a long-term plan to guarantee all citizens affordable broadband service.

What has gone unexplained by the CBC throughout the CRTC application process is why it felt that Fredericton deserved continued OTA coverage, while Moncton and Saint John did not. Perversely, an application to withdraw OTA service from all parts of New Brunswick would have made more sense than one to limit service only to the smallest of the province’s three cities. Barring further explanation, it’s hard not to see this as more of the same favouritism that often seems to benefit our ‘precious’ capital city at the expense of our larger urban centres.

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