Shaw says it doesn’t need permission to end free TV service for rural customers

Shaw Communications is disputing a CBC News report that said it is asking permission to kill a free TV service for rural and small-city residents, but one expert says the company can’t take any action without regulatory approval.

In a letter to one of the Calgary-based company’s satellite subscribers, which CBC News has obtained, vice president of regulatory affairs Dean Shaikh says Shaw is ending its Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) under a long-standing agreement with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

The LTSS provides minimum access to Canadian television services, including CBC, Radio-Canada, CTV, Global and Citytv. It was made available free to households in areas that previously received over-the-air signals through an antenna, and lost them in 2011 when transmission converted to digital.

It was created, Shaikh says in the letter, as a benefit to the Canadian broadcasting system, as a condition of regulatory approval for Shaw’s purchase of Global TV in 2010. But it came, he says, with a pre-approved ending.

“The CBC story suggesting that ‘Shaw has asked the CRTC for permission’ is not accurate,” he writes. CBC News stands by its story.

Shaw has to ask the CRTC for permission to do anything.– Steven James May, Humber College 

Another Shaw executive reiterated that statement.

“The current CRTC proceeding is not an application or request to terminate LTSS,” said Chethan Lakshman, vice-president of external affairs, in an emailed statement.

The company says it’s “very proud” of the LTSS.

“Shaw has simply confirmed that the LTSS will end when our licence term expires on August 31, 2019, consistent with what we proposed and what was accepted by the [CRTC] in 2010,” said Lakshman.

This is in contrast to statements from then-chair of the CRTC in a previous interview with CBC News, who said he was surprised at Shaw’s application to remove the LTSS as a condition of licence.

“I don’t understand why they would not [continue],” said Konrad von Finkenstein on Friday.

As for today’s CRTC, a representative said it couldn’t comment while the issue is still before the regulator.

The Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) was made available free to households in areas that previously received over-the-air signals through an antenna, and lost them in 2011 when transmission converted to digital. (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

‘Premature’ move

According to Steven James May, a researcher in over-the-air broadcast policy in Canada, Shaw is jumping the gun by telling Canadians — explicitly — they will be ineligible for the free service they’re currently receiving by the end of August.

“It’s premature for Shaw Direct to be saying, prior to the CRTC’s decision, that the LTSS is definitely ending after August 31, 2019,” said May, who teaches at Humber College in Toronto.

May points out Shaw Direct cannot operate in Canada without a licence from the CRTC, and their notice to terminate free delivery of satellite signals to rural and small-city Canadians is part of Shaw’s application to renew said licence. Shaw was required to offer the LTSS program until at least the end of their current licence period, under a CRTC broadcasting decision.

However, according to May, that does not mean the condition of licence is automatically lifted when Shaw applies for a renewal.

“It needs to be discussed and reviewed by the commission,” said May. “Shaw has to ask the CRTC for permission to do anything.”

May hopes the CRTC will hold a public hearing into the matter, and said it’s important to provide free access to basic television services across Canada.

“The broadcasters and … the telecoms these days are making their billions every year for their shareholders and they work hard for their billions,” said May. “It is expected that [those companies] will be providing services to Canadians in exchange for the use of our spectrum.”

May does add that Shaw does not specifically have to bear the full brunt of providing access to local television across the country, and says those are questions that should be discussed by the industry as a whole and the CRTC.

The deadline for public interventions on Shaw’s application to the CRTC was Monday, with more than 150 submissions now available on the regulator’s website — dozens in support of the LTSS continuing in some form.



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