Industry Canada is consulting on closely following a U.S. initiative to repurpose radiofrequency spectrum currently used for over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting for use by wireless service providers. PIAC submitted its initial comments on February 26.
In PIAC’s view, OTA broadcasting is an affordable, accessible alternative to costly distribution platforms which continue to increase in price for consumers. As an alternative to traditional and online delivery models, OTA can provide competitive stimulus to vertically integrated incumbent broadcasters. OTA, while possibly perceived as ‘old’ technology, holds great technological promise in terms of offering high signal quality, and multiplexing a number of distinct broadcasting offerings within one channel. In PIAC’s view, foreclosing on that promise would be at odds with the CRTC’s recent affirmation of OTA’s importance. It would also signal that commercial mobile spectrum specifically, and online access, more generally, is the future of broadcasting consumption, which PIAC believes should not be a foregone conclusion in light of ongoing broadband affordability and accessibility challenges in Canada. To the extent Canada will follow the U.S. in the 600 MHz spectrum conversion from broadcasting spectrum to commercial mobile spectrum, then Industry Canada should make efforts to ease the transition to new frequencies for OTA stations and actively assist the public in making this transition. In either case, PIAC encourages Industry Canada, alongside the CRTC, to develop an OTA TV policy framework that provides OTA broadcasting (and its viewers) with a stable future, rather than serial re-assignments to accommodate for mobile spectrum displacement.