TV service might end in some Canadian communities next year: advocate
Key service utilized by small cable companies won't be supported beyond 2022
Some Canadian communities, especially in rural and remote regions, might not have television services by this time next year.
On Jan. 1, CommScope, a U.S.-based firm and third-party technology provider, will terminate support of Shaw Broadcast Services' Quick Take Plus (QT+) system, according to a memo circulated by Shaw to affected cable providers.
It's through the QT+ system that TV signals are provided via satellite to cable companies typically located in more remote and rural parts of Canada, according to Jay Thomson, the CEO of the Canadian Communication Systems Alliance (CCSA), which represents more than 100 independent companies.
"It may very well be that these communities will lose access to television," Thomson said.
"And that is incredibly important because Canada's broadcasting policy is all about ensuring that Canadians, wherever they live, have equal and equitable access to high levels of really robust, strong communications services."
Shaw also said there were no viable technology replacements for the CommScope-managed platform to enable Shaw to continue supporting QT+ services beyond December 31, 2022.
When contacted by CBC News, a spokesperson for CommScope said it was directing all media inquiries back to Shaw.
Thomson said the affected companies heavily rely on the QT+ service because satellite technology is needed to get TV signals in certain regions of Canada.
Bell is another provider of satellite delivery of TV signals, he said.
However, he said Bell uses very different equipment and it would be "very, very costly" and "simply cost prohibitive" for small cable companies to transition from their existing equipment to Bell's equipment — hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases.
Thomson said the other reason small cable providers rely on this service is because they don't have access to a fibre link and access to broadband services in rural Canada is a real challenge.
He said with low-speed internet service, many communities don't have the alternative to turn to a streaming service.
"If they lose their TV, they lose all of their programming options," he said.
In Saskatchewan, the CCSA represents companies such as Regina-based Access Communications, which provides TV to more than 235 communities and rural areas across the province.
Access has been working on a service transition for years — and none of its customers will lose their TV service, said Fran Moran, the communications manager.
"This news isn't entirely a surprise," Moran said. "The QT+ system is a legacy system, so we've expected this for some time."
Moran said Access will be utilizing Distributed Access Architecture (DAA), adding the not-for-profit cooperative, not customers, will be completely covering all of the costs of the network infrastructure upgrades.
Other Saskatchewan cable providers that could be impacted are based in Beauval, Ile a la Crosse, Buffalo Narrows and Imperial.
In a statement provided to CBC News, a Shaw spokesperson said QT+ is a legacy platform with software and hardware components that are reaching the end of their serviceable life.
As a result, it said certain smaller cable companies that are customers of Shaw will not be able to use QT+ to provide content to their subscribers.
"While this was not the result of any decision by Shaw, our team has been in touch with impacted cable providers to work with them on a case-by-case basis and to explore potential options," the statement said.
"Direct-to-home satellite will continue to be an option in the impacted communities."
May need government to step in
Thomson said his organization received the announcement toward the end of the day on Friday and it is still trying to understand its implications — including how many of its member cable companies are going to be affected.
The CCSA is also exploring whether there are solutions that can be found either with working with Shaw or, if need be, turning to the government or the CRTC for help, he said.
"If Canadians across rural Canada and the north lose access to TV services, then we're really finding a real hole in Canadian policy that needs to be fixed here," he said.
In a statement to CBC News, the CRTC said it is aware of the issue involving the QT+ services and the fact that they will no longer be supported by the provider.
It said "it is monitoring the situation and encourages the parties involved to find a solution in order to ensure continued service for Canadians that may be affected."