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The Globe and Mail

CBC says switch to digital too onerous to make deadline

Children play with a ball near a television set equipped with a traditional "rabbit ears" antenna that was set up to monitor a live broadcast, in this Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009 file photo taken in Seattle. TV stations across the U.S. plan to cut their analog signals Friday June 12, 2009, ending a six-decade era for the technology and likely stranding more than 1 million unprepared homes without TV service.

Ted S. Warren

This time next year, it will be rabbit season in Canada: with the August 2011 cut-off date for the transition to digital TV signals, those rabbit ears will be all but useless. But for the first time, one broadcaster has said it will not make the deadline.

On Friday, the CBC released its plan to convert 27 of its signal transmitters to digital format from analogue. But it also said that just under half of those transmitters won't be converted in time for the deadline next summer.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission confirmed it received an application from the CBC on Thursday for a one-year extension, to allow the network to convert 12 of the transmitters before Aug. 31, 2012.

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"Why can't we do more? … Financially speaking, we don't have the cash to be doing this kind of investment," said Steven Guiton, vice-president and chief regulatory officer with CBC/Radio-Canada.

Mr. Guiton estimated the total cost of converting those transmitters and related equipment will be roughly $50-million. While the CBC supports the transition, he said the public broadcaster's capital budget is quite small, and it simply doesn't have that amount to spend on the transition in a single year.

Other broadcasters have complained about the timeline; notably at a public hearing on the matter held by the CRTC last November. The regulator responded that, because the transition was announced in 2007, the networks had been given ample notice.

"It's not a surprise … the whole project is in difficulty," said Gregory Taylor, a post-doctoral researcher with Ryerson University, who is working on a book about Canada's digital transition. When the switch happened in the U.S. in 2009, a 6-month extension was required, he added.

Rogers Communications Inc. confirmed on Friday that it will "definitely" make the deadline to switch the transmitters for its City and Omni stations, and CanWest Broadcasting also expects its Global TV transmitters to be converted in time, as did CTV.

Networks have complained about the cost of the project. In an interview in July, Paul Sparkes, executive vice-president of corporate affairs for CTVglobemedia (which also owns The Globe and Mail) said that while the network would make the deadline, it could reconsider its timing if the CRTC decision to allow broadcasters to negotiate for cable and satellite companies to pay them for their signals is not approved during a review by the Federal Court of Appeal.

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