Commentary – Free, basic TV access is still a vital service

Tom Henihan

A substantial number of Canadians in rural areas and small cities may lose access to basic TV services such as CTV, Global, Citytv and the official national broadcaster CBC Television.

Shaw Communications home satellite service recently informed the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) that it wanted out of providing the Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS).

Established in 2011, when over-air broadcast picked up by antenna was discontinued in the changeover from analog to digital transmission, the LTSS offers minimal Canadian television services to people who live in regions that received free over-the-air signals prior to the move to digital.

When the company acquired Global TV in 2010, Shaw Communications entered into a deal with the CRTC to provide basic free satellite service to households in areas affected by the transition to digital.

As part of that deal, the CRTC mandated Shaw Direct to offer the LTSS program until its next license renewal, which is coming up in August of this year.

The assumption might be that only low-income individuals and families avail of the basic service, but people also elect not to buy cable services especially when many consider cable TV obsolete, a position supported by the consistent decline in subscribers.

Of course, Shaw is not necessarily the culprit here as it fulfilled its side of the deal. The onus is now on the CRTC to continue to offer the basic but important TV services to households in affected areas across Canada.

At least 31,000 Canadian households will be without TV service if the CRTC offers no alternative to Shaw Communications providing LTSS.

This break in service could force the hand of people who cannot necessarily afford satellite or those who find the basic TV service adequate and don’t wish to subscribe to satellite, if those people want some kind of TV Service.

The term “small communities” is of course a relative term that can be misleading as, for instance, people in cities such as Fort McMurray and Lethbridge with populations of approximately 100,000 people will lose this basic service if the CRTC fails to establish a substitute to the existing Shaw Communications’ delivery of LTSS.

In a time when people are calling for the universal access to high-speed internet and fiber optic cable infrastructure, dwelling on basic TV services may seem like a pointless anomaly but to many people this is their only means of staying in touch with local, national and international issues along with relying on the service for entertainment.

The Canadian Government has an obligation to ensure that all households have access to basic free TV, especially in the case of CBC, which is a Canadian taxpayer funded entity that must be accessible to all Canadians.

Thirty-one thousand households requiring LTSS service may seem insignificant in the greater scheme of things unless of course you are a member of one of those households.

If an alternative provider to Shaw Communications’ is not established, the LTSS it will be just another instance where rural areas and small urban centers lose another service and become further marginalized.

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