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Canada’s Analog Public TV Shuts Down Forcing Rural Viewers to Pay Cable, Satellite Services

Phillip Dampier July 31, 2012 Audio, Canada, Consumer News, EastLink, Public Policy & Gov't, Shaw Comments Off on Canada’s Analog Public TV Shuts Down Forcing Rural Viewers to Pay Cable, Satellite Services

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation today shut down more than 600 analog television transmitters primarily serving rural viewers, forcing most to either go without television to sign up for commercial satellite or cable television service.

Because of Canada’s great expanse, the country’s public broadcaster has relied on hundreds of terrestrial low-power television transmitters to cover smaller communities and rural areas outside of the reach of CBC stations in larger cities. These transmitters provide relays of 27 regional English and French stations and have allowed rural residents to enjoy free over-the-air television.

While larger communities are now able to watch digital television signals in place of older analog service, the CBC has decided not to replace existing analog repeater transmitters with digital ones, effectively ending service for many rural Canadians who will now receive no over the air signals at all. Budget challenges and a decision from the CRTC that declared the CBC has no obligation to broadcast its programming has been met with resistance across rural Canada, particularly because taxpayers in cities large and small finance the CBC’s operations.

As of today, the CBC will rely entirely on the 27 digital television stations it will continue to operate over the public airwaves nationwide. Critics say that is contrary to the CBC’s mandate in the Broadcasting Act, which declares the CBC is Canada’s “national public broadcaster.”

 “The TV transmitter infrastructure is worth millions and was paid for by Canadian taxpayers,” says Catherine Edwards of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations. “More than 2000 Canadians protested the shutdown in letters to the CRTC last month. They asked that the infrastructure be offered to communities to maintain for themselves. The federal government seems to be doing everything it can to cripple the national broadcaster and turn it into a pay specialty service, available to well-heeled Canadians in big cities.”

“The CBC-TV and Radio-Canada analog transmitter shutdown is a sad chapter in Canada’s digital transition,” says Karen Wirsig of the Canadian Media Guild. “We understand that CBC is in a financial bind with $155 million in cuts required by 2015. Something had to give. Evidently infrastructure outside of major cities is not a priority for the federal government, despite rhetoric about the digital economy.”

The CBC says the change will impact only 2 percent of Canadians that do not already receive digital television service or have signed up with a pay television provider. But the concept of “free TV” has changed forever for rural viewers.

For some cable viewers, the CBC’s digital solution is also presenting problems, especially in the Maritimes. In rural Newfoundland and Labrador, EastLink viewers may lose their closest local CBC station and be forced to watch programming from a CBC station is Halifax, Nova Scotia instead, at least until Shaw begins carrying additional CBC stations on satellite.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation today shut down more than 600 relay transmitters providing rural Canada with over-the-air access to the public broadcaster with a mandate to serve all of Canada. Now, viewers in rural Newfoundland and Labrador are going to be stuck watching “local” news and weather intended for Halifax, Nova Scotia. CBC Radio in Newfoundland and Labrador talks with the CBC about the reason for the disruption. (July 30, 2012) (8 minutes)
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Shaw’s “Local Television Satellite Solution”

In 2010, Shaw Communications, which owns Shaw Cable and Shaw Direct — a major satellite TV provider, announced its intention to buy Global TV — a major Canadian television network. For Americans, this would be the equivalent of Comcast owning your local cable company, NBC, and DirecTV. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada’s telecommunications regulator, agreed to a deal offered by Shaw to acquire Global in return for offering Canadians who have not had satellite or cable service in the last 90 days a temporary free satellite solution for receiving “local stations.”

This customer ran out of luck when he needed Shaw to install just over 250 feet of cable from the nearest clear spot for the satellite to his home. Shaw limits installers to 250 feet, no more. The installer packed up and left shortly after learning an exception would have to be made. (Photo: PGM/Dude, ‘Where’s My TV?’ blog)

Shaw’s Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) offers qualified Canadians free satellite service with a handful of over-the-air stations, assuming they apply by November 2012.

Assuming your postal code is within a “qualified reception zone,” and you somehow know about the barely promoted service, Shaw will provide a satellite dish, receiver, and reasonable installation at no charge.

Unfortunately, many Canadians have no idea Shaw is offering the service, and are opting to purchase a regular Shaw Direct package, signing up with another satellite provider, or subscribing to cable where available. Very little about the service is found on Shaw Direct’s website, and those interested are required to call the company for further information. Even those made aware of Shaw’s offer have found challenges signing up.

Steven James May, who runs the “Dude, Where is My TV?” blog reports his parents, who live in rural Denbigh, Ontario were first made aware of Shaw’s LTSS when he told them about it. Several initial attempts to sign up for the service were dashed when Shaw responded Denbigh residents were not qualified for LTSS based on the postal code provided. When May’s parents eventually did qualify, they were sent a well-used and scuffed Star Choice satellite receiver retired from the days Shaw Direct was known as Star Choice.

After installation, the Ontario residents ended up with a dozen primarily over-the-air channels from across Canada:

  • 2 Shaw Direct’s home channel
  • 9 Knowledge Network
  • 23 CTV 2 Alberta
  • 37 CBC Toronto
  • 39 Global Toronto
  • 40 CityTV Toronto
  • 41 CHCH Hamilton
  • 42 OMNI
  • 44 CTV Toronto
  • 50 MCTV Sudbury (CTV)
  • 52 Global Thunder Bay
  • 55 TVOntario (Educational)

While enticing, Denbigh residents have effectively lost “local service” because the community is forced to watch local news for Toronto, Hamilton, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and Calgary — all much further away than the nearest large city for them — Ottawa. Residents that used to watch CJOH (CTV Ottawa) and CBOT (CBC Ottawa) over-the-air now must get accustomed to news and weather for Toronto, a considerable distance to the west.

“This is a major public policy failure,” adds Edwards. “Everyone has known that the digital transition was coming for two decades. It’s supposed to increase our communications services, yet no one would step up to the plate and take leadership to make sure that neither rural Canada nor our national public broadcaster would be crippled: not Heritage, not the CRTC, not the CBC, and certainly not the federal government.”

Calgary Fire Causes Chaos for Shaw’s Phone, Internet Customers Across Western Canada

Phillip Dampier July 12, 2012 Canada, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Shaw, Video Comments Off on Calgary Fire Causes Chaos for Shaw’s Phone, Internet Customers Across Western Canada

Some 30,000 Shaw customers, mostly in Calgary, spent much of yesterday without phone service, and many more western Canadians experienced Internet problems as a result of a small electrical fire at a Shaw Communications facility in downtown Calgary.

Described by a news report as “chaos,” the fire also brought down at least three Calgary radio stations, an area bank’s ATM network, hospital communications, government offices, and Calgary’s 311 government information service.

A transformer fire on the 13th floor at Shaw’s Calgary headquarters, combined with the sprinkler system that put the fire out, proved the old adage that water and electricity don’t mix. Calgary’s power company disconnected electrical service to the building, creating additional outages for corporate customers who use Shaw’s data center, also inside the building.

As a result of the fire and its impact, Calgary officials decided to activate the city’s municipal emergency plan.

Shaw’s Internet service problems were felt as far away as Vancouver, according to news reports. As of late this afternoon, Shaw’s website is still offline.

While phone service has largely been restored, everything is not back to normal at Shaw’s headquarters, where many workers were turned away as late as this afternoon. Several streets around the building remained closed as of this morning.

Calgary Emergency Management Agency director Bruce Burrell called the incident “a major telecommunications failure,” and noted it was felt across the province and beyond.

Shaw joined local and provincial officials to assess the incident and the fire department response, as well as reviewing its impact.

It has been a difficult week for Calgary and Alberta generally. On Monday, just as the Calgary Stampede Rodeo fired into high gear, Alberta’s electricity companies began rolling blackouts after six power generators went down.

Questions are being raised about the impact of both events.

[flv width=”616″ height=”380″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CTV Shaw Service Disrupted 7-12-12.flv[/flv]

CTV Calgary covers the impact of the fire at Shaw Communications’ headquarters in Calgary, Alb. and the cleanup still ongoing.  (6 minutes)

Shaw Reinstating Cable Radio Service; Angry Customers Win Reprieve

Phillip Dampier July 11, 2012 Canada, Consumer News, Shaw Comments Off on Shaw Reinstating Cable Radio Service; Angry Customers Win Reprieve

Some Shaw Cable customers accustomed to their cable FM radio have successfully won the fight to reinstate the service.

Comox Valley in British Columbia appears to be the epicenter of the protests. When several popular FM radio signals imported from western Canada and the U.S. went missing in April, local residents complained loudly the service was dropped without warning.

Cable FM radio has been a part of Shaw Cable for years and years, and long-standing customers have held on to the service. Cable radio works by connecting Shaw’s cable to the antenna input of a traditional FM radio. Cable radio signals then appear up and down the FM dial.  The service has always been a complimentary add-on, and Shaw suspected its time of usefulness had come and gone as consumers gravitated towards satellite and online radio.

They were wrong.

“We certainly listened to the feedback we received,” Greg Pultz, vice president of operations for Shaw told the Comox Valley Echo. “We decided to [restore] the most popular [channels]. We freed up some capacity – we found a way that we could do both.”

That makes listeners like Rosemary Baxter happy.

“All of a sudden one morning I turned on the radio – and it was like a tomb in here,” Baxter told the newspaper.

Baxter’s gain is The Source’s loss. The electronics chain was doing a steady business selling small, portable $40 FM transmitters that allowed Shaw customers to stream radio stations over the Internet and hear them on their FM radios.

Shaw’s restoration of the service brings back a half-dozen of the most-requested stations, mostly non-commercial or public radio stations. Shaw cable radio customers on and around Vancouver Island can find signals on these frequencies:

  • 88.1 – CBC Radio One (Victoria, B.C.)
  • 88.3 – CBC Radio Two (Vancouver, B.C.)
  • 88.5 – KPLU Jazz (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • 88.7 – KUOW NPR (Seattle, Wash.)
  • 89.5 – KING Classical (Seattle, Wash.)
  • 89.9 – CBUF Première Chaîne/Radio-Canada (Vancouver, B.C.)

“We’ve had lots of very positive feedback from customers,” Pultz told the newspaper. “We are just thrilled that we have a good relationship with our customers and that we can make changes when they speak up.”

He also apologized to Shaw customers for any inconvenience.

Shaw Cable Ending Aggressive Pricing Promotions; Price War is “Lose, Lose Situation”

Phillip Dampier July 5, 2012 Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps, Shaw, Telus, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Shaw Cable Ending Aggressive Pricing Promotions; Price War is “Lose, Lose Situation”

Shaw Communications executives last week announced, to the relief of Wall Street, the cable company is pulling back on great deals for cable TV, Internet and phone service this summer.

In an effort to appease Wall Street analysts like Phillip Huang, a researcher for UBS Investment Bank — who fear lower prices could “spiral into a price war, which obviously would be a lose, lose situation,” Shaw has made it clear it intends to stop some of its most aggressive promotions this summer.

“When you talk about promotions in the market, we’ve been very disciplined in that regard,” Shaw executives told analysts on last week’s quarterly results conference call. “It’s a highly competitive environment and will continue to be that way and we’re going to operate in a certain fashion.”

That “certain fashion” has cost them at least 21,500 subscribers who have already left Shaw this past quarter, most headed to Shaw’s biggest competitor Telus.

But some Wall Street analysts remain unsatisfied, noting there are major differences in telecommunications pricing in Canada. Western Canadians pay substantially less for phone, cable, and broadband service than their counterparts in Ontario and Quebec. Shaw and Telus customers also have much larger usage allowances for broadband service, and Telus so far has not enforced what limits they have.

Analysts peppered Shaw executives about why they are not raising prices to match what Bell, Rogers, and Vidéotron customers further east are paying.

Jay Mehr, Shaw’s senior vice president of operations told investors to hang in there.

“We still believe that we have some good pricing power when discipline really comes back into this market,” Mehr said on the call with investors. That signals Shaw is prepared to raise prices when aggressive deals end.

Wall Street also questioned why the company does not use long-term contracts to lock customers in place:

Mehr

Glen Campbell – BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division: […] On service contracts: You’ve been pretty firm in not using them. Your competitor clearly does. […] Can you talk about the reasons for not going down the service contract road and whether you might reconsider that position?

Bradley S. Shaw – Shaw Communications: Well, there’s arguments for contracts as you — I guess, it’s really what these contracts do. As you said, we have equipment. Our [indiscernible] space — our Easy Own plan certainly is a very consumer-friendly plan as customers are getting something, and they’re agreeing to pay for it over time. And that creates kind of a natural kind of a relationship. What we don’t want to have happen is having customers, who are feeling confined by a contract, who otherwise would like to do something else. We don’t think that’s consumer-friendly. And so we’re looking at ways that we’d have more consumer-friendly kind of relationships but that still create some kind of a longer-term relationship that you can count on. But we don’t want to have the ball and chain kind of contracts that others have adopted.

[…] From a customer point of view. But also, the nature of contracts is there needs to be an enticement to get the customer sign a contract, and that enticement tends to be what we’re seeing in the market, which is fairly significant giveaways of hardware and other devices to be able to incent that. And so it will have has an impact on your cost of acquisition, and we’re trying to manage that. As Peter said, our Easy Own program is a very customer-friendly way for people to come on and make a commitment to us. And at the end of the period, they own their equipment. They haven’t had to pay upfront, and so it’s a nice way to manage that without being heavy-handed.

Shaw’s Exo Wi-Fi service is coming soon across western Canada.

Some other developments at Shaw, reported during the conference call:

  • Spending on upgrades will continue to be on the aggressive side as the company builds out its new Exo Wi-Fi network and converts cable systems to digital service, creating additional space for broadband speed increases and other services;
  • Broadband delivers the highest profit margins of all of Shaw’s services, so it remains a very important part of Shaw’s package;
  • Customers are gravitating towards higher speed broadband packages, delivering extra revenue;
  • The company has re-priced some of its plans and offers to be more friendly to broadband-only customers;
  • Shaw is working to gain approval from communities across western Canada to deploy its Wi-Fi network, with plans to begin limited promotion of the new service by late fall or early 2013. Shaw expects its Wi-Fi network to have substantial coverage across the region within three years;
  • Shaw plans to work with U.S. cable operators to participate in a Wi-Fi roaming network that will allow its customers access to the Wi-Fi networks being built in the United States;
  • Shaw’s “TV Everywhere” project is being designed to protect existing video revenue. Rights are being acquired across the board for broadband, tablets and other mobile devices for a robust on-demand service. But live streaming is secondary.

Shaw Communications Pushes Former Cable Radio Listeners to Extra-Cost ‘Galaxie’ Radio Service

Phillip Dampier May 21, 2012 Canada, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Shaw 8 Comments

Shaw is ripping the wires out of its analog FM cable radio service, formerly delivered free of charge to all Shaw subscribers.

Shaw Communications’ plans to abandon its analog cable FM radio service, delivered free of charge to basic Shaw subscribers, has been met with resistance by customers who appreciated the improved reception the service delivered.

Some noted Shaw is eliminating the free service and replacing it with one that requires a digital cable subscription to receive. Shaw:

Shaw previously offered customers access to FM radio stations free of charge with their coax cable connection, as part of their Shaw service. Given that many of our customers no longer use these stations, we are in the process of removing this service across our systems.

Removing FM radio stations allows us to free up additional bandwidth, which means Shaw can deliver faster Internet speeds, increased High-Definition content and more Shaw Exo On Demand programming. This change is part of Shaw’s dedication to providing our customers with leading edge technology through our superior Shaw Exo network.

How can I access my radio stations?

There are a number of options for customers to continue listening to radio stations:

  • Most radio stations offer their services via online streaming. We have provided links to local radio stations’ websites to allow you to stream their programming online. You can access these lists below.
  • You can also purchase a radio transmitter at stores like Best Buy or Future Shop, which will allow you to tune into your favourite radio stations. These devices cost as little as $30 and require an Internet connection to receive any “out-of-market” services. Installation can be as easy as plugging in the transmitter into the “Audio Out” feed of your computer, and gives you access to thousands of stations around the world.

We also offer a number of commercial free radio stations through our Galaxie service – customers with a digital box have access to up to 55 channels to enjoy a variety of music styles and offerings. To learn more about Galaxie, visit: http://vod.shaw.ca/music/galaxie_player/

The problem with both of Shaw’s options, according to readers who have contacted Stop the Cap!, is that they come at an added cost.

“Shaw would love it if we streamed those radio stations, which all count against our bandwidth cap, instead of listening to them for free on the cable radio,” says Irene Delasquay from Prince George, B.C. “Galaxie is just a music jukebox service that requires you to buy a digital cable subscription and rent a box to listen, and I don’t want all that extra equipment and expense.”

Some wonder why Shaw is discontinuing the service in the first place. Shirley and Meg Bonney told the Comox Valley Echo:

When we finally we able to speak to a person at Shaw we were told that they “didn’t think that many people were using the FM frequencies”. Had they ever inquired? Had they even tried to find out? Or had they just made a biased assumption – perhaps to try to force people to buy their digital black box in order to access even more of their own, commercial music channels?

We were also told that the CBC frequencies were a “gift” from Shaw.

Many readers who have been in touch with Shaw are being told their best alternative is streaming radio signals over a personal computer, but that presents a problem for some who don’t have a personal computer, have located it in an inconvenient room to listen, or who do not want to waste electricity running a computer just to listen to the radio.

While cable radio is no longer common in many parts of the United States, the vast expanse of Canada combined with an often-insufficient network of low-powered FM repeater transmitters, has made reception of commercial and certain public radio signals difficult, especially inside homes.

Roger and Isabel Thomas feel the loss hurts their ability to stay in touch with informative programming long-abandoned by commercial stations and cable networks:

The FM service provided us with daylong (and night-time) enjoyable, culturally stimulating, commercial free listening. It kept us abreast of national and world-wide events and allowed us to enjoy our selection of favourite music, eclectic though it may have been.

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