Since the debut of broadcast television in this country more than 50 years ago, millions of Canadians have grown to expect free access to local television signals. While the mechanism for accessing those ad or taxpayer supported broadcasts has evolved from rooftop antennae to cable and satellite distribution, access has consistently been free (cable obviously charges for access but it does not pay for carriage of local signals). My technology law column this week (Toronto Star version, Ottawa Citizen version, homepage version) noted that Canada's broadcast regulator has issued a decision that will bring the era of free local television to an end for many Canadians. Whether through the elimination of local over-the-air broadcasts or via additional cable or satellite charges to cover a new fee-for-carriage system, free is out and new fees are in.
The changes are the result of two policy decisions by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. First, the CRTC set the ground rules for the digital transition of Canadian broadcasting by determining that many Canadian communities are likely to lose their over-the-air signal as part of the change.