Ottawa MPP urges own government to maintain TVO signal

An Ottawa MPP is calling upon his own government to push TVO to reverse its plan to eliminate its free over-the-air signal for markets outside Toronto.

John Fraser pens plea calling loss of free signal outside Toronto an 'issue of equity'

Ottawa South MPP John Fraser is calling upon his own government to reverse TVO's decision to decommission eight broadcast transmitters and eliminate its free over-the-air signal for viewers outside Toronto. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

An Ottawa MPP is calling upon his own government to urge TVO to reverse its plan to eliminate its free over-the-air signal for markets outside Toronto — and potentially even boost funding to the public broadcaster.

John Fraser, the Liberal MPP for Ottawa South, recently sent a letter to Education Minister Mitzie Hunter urging her to reverse the broadcaster's decision to permanently shut down eight transmitters in Ontario.

"I heard from a number of constituents that were just concerned. A lot of it had to do with equity of access. Not everyone has cable or internet," Fraser told CBC Ottawa's All In A Day Thursday.

"We don't have universal access to both of those things. We do [have access] to over-the-air transmission."

Cutting signal to save $1M

Earlier this year, TVO announced it would be eliminating the signal July 31 in an effort to save $1 million a year.

The decision means that TVO will decommission its over-the-air transmitters in Ottawa, Belleville, Chatham, Cloyne, Kitchener, London, Thunder Bay and Windsor.

As a result, television viewers outside Toronto who rely on a free, over-the-air signal will no longer be able to tune into TVO for the first time since the public broadcaster began operating in 1970.

Viewers who subscribe to cable or satellite TV will still be able to watch TVO, while individual programs will continue to be available online.

Issue of equity

In his letter to Hunter, Fraser wrote that — although he understood the financial pressures TVO was facing — maintaining the broadcaster's over-the-air free signal was "an issue of equity."

"As Minister of Education, TVO falls under your ministry, and I wanted to bring this important issue to your attention," he wrote.

If that's what it takes to get it done ... then yes.- John Fraser on increasing funding to TVO

"Many of the people affected by the decision are seniors on fixed incomes and families with modest to low incomes with children who rely on TVO for its educational and news content."

TVO operates at arms-length from the provincial government, with its own separate board, but Fraser hoped Hunter would ask the broadcaster to look at the "social impact" of its decision.

"They'd have to be open to that. I know that the minister understands the argument, the point about equity ... and I know that the board would be concerned with that as well," Fraser told All In A Day.

Fraser also said he'd be open to increasing funding for TVO.

"If that's what it takes to get it done, to address the issue that I've raised, then yes," Fraser said.

In a report issued last year, Toronto-based Convergence Research Group estimated the number of Canadian households without cable or satellite service was approximately 25 per cent.

TVO has said the decision will affect less than one per cent of households in Ontario once access to programs online is taken into account.