Free TV in Canada:
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is free TV?
Free TV is what you can watch using an aerial antenna or rabbit ears. You don’t
have to pay for cable or satellite to receive free TV.
2. What is happening to change free TV in Canada?
Television around the world is in the midst of a transition from analogue to digital production and broadcasting. If you watch U.S. stations, you’ve probably seen
announcements about the change. Analogue transmitters will be shut down south of the border on February 17, 2009. In Canada, many broadcasters in the largest cities now send out signals using both analogue and digital transmitters. Broadcasters in larger Canadian centres will be required to turn off their analogue transmitters by August 31, 2011.
3. I live in a large city. What will it mean for me?
If you live in a large centre, you are likely to have reasonable access to free digital TV in the future. You will need either a new TV set with a digital receiver or a converter box that can receive the digital signal and allow your existing analogue TV set to display it.
Because the transition to digital is further advanced in the United States and elsewhere, digital converter boxes are already available in some areas, especially those close to the U.S. border. If you want to continue being able to receive both local Canadian stations, many of which are still analogue, and U.S. stations, which will be digital-only starting in February 2009, make sure to get a converter box that can receive both digital and analogue signals.
4. I live in a small town. What will it mean for me?
Little is known about broadcasters’ plans for smaller cities and rural areas in Canada. Broadcasters told the Canadian regulator, the CRTC, in 2006 that they are not eager to replace all of their analogue transmitters with digital ones. Some argued the transition to digital is too costly and, given that the majority of Canadians already receive TV through cable or satellite, broadcasters shouldn’t have to replace their transmitters in every location. Although the broadcasters’
actual plans are not known, it is likely that smaller power transmitters and repeaters would not be a priority for replacement. We estimate that as many as 977 transmitter sites, many serving more than one community, could be mothballed. That would end Free TV in those communities. An end to free,
local TV would also likely mean that no new local stations could emerge in smaller centres and rural areas. So far, the CRTC has not set any timeline for smaller communities.
5. Is there any alternative to the loss of free TV in smaller cities and rural areas?
Yes. The CMG has commissioned research into the options offered by digital and how much they might cost. For example, a digital transmitter is able to deliver six signals on a single frequency. This is called multiplexing and it is already being used to expand free TV in Europe, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Multiplexing could be the answer for smaller cities and rural areas. You can see what’s available for free in the U.K. by visiting http://www.freeview.co.uk/home.
6. Why is multiplexing a good idea?
First of all, it’s cheaper to set up and to operate for each participating broadcaster.
Secondly, it would increase Free TV choices in most smaller cities and rural areas in Canada, where viewers would be able to watch up to six stations for free.
Multiplexing allows broadcasters to share the costs, up to six ways, to install and operate a single transmitter. Our research found that the average cost, per broadcaster, to participate in setting up a multiplex would be $22,000, compared with an average of $132,000 per broadcaster to set up its own transmitter.
7. What is HD?
HD stands for High Definition digital television. The level of definition, ranging from standard to high, depends on the amount of data used to transmit the TV signal and determines the quality of the picture you see on your TV set. Current technology permits multiplexing of up to six SD (standard definition) signals, or one HD signal with up to three SD signals, on a single digital transmitter. Standard definition TV is already better quality than analogue TV. And current HD over the air is usually higher quality than HD via cable or satellite.
8. Doesn’t everybody have cable or satellite anyway? Why do we need Free
Some 10% of Canadian TV viewers do not subscribe to cable or satellite and rely on their local over-the-air stations for TV programming. That amounts to more than 3 million people – a number similar to the population of the Vancouver
region, or the City of Toronto.
With Free TV, you have a choice beyond your local cable company and one or two satellite providers. Free TV choices are fairly limited right now in most small towns and rural areas. However, multiplexing would provide a decent alternative to cable and satellite – especially if you value local and Canadian programming –
since you would be able to get up to six channels for free, even with a single transmitter in your community.
9. What would I be able to watch for free in my community?
It depends on which broadcasters would be willing to participate. In principle, we
see a local multiplex as a partnership among public and private broadcasters that
already have a presence in and around your area. For example: CBC, Radio-
Canada, a provincial broadcaster (if one exists), Global, CTV and a local station
(if one exists).
10. Aren’t broadcasters competing with each other? Why would they share a
Broadcasters may be competitors, but they already partner with each other when
it comes to sending out their signals. In fact, they already share a tower in 80% of
the communities where there is more than one local broadcaster. Right now, they
share the real estate and the tower. Under a shared multiplex, they would add a
transmitter and a multiplexer to the list. That means they would also share
installation, energy and maintenance costs. Their ongoing costs would be lower
than they are today.
11. When will we know what the broadcasters are planning?
The broadcasters will be asked for their plans when they apply to renew their
broadcast licences in 2009. Those plans will be available to the public at the
12. What can I do to help make sure Free TV survives where I live?
There are a number of things you can do:
; Let your MP know that you want access to Free TV after the transition to
digital TV. Tell him or her about multiplexing and make the case for it in
; Write to your local broadcaster(s) and tell them you expect them to
maintain a free, over-the-air signal.
; Send a copy of your letter to the Chair of the CRTC, Konrad von
Finckenstein, CRTC, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0N2; Fax: 819-994-0218.
; Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know about your local situation.
We will keep you up to date on developments as the digital TV deadline
For more information, visit www.cmg.ca or call 1-800-465-4149.