Out of touch in Hawaii
It was late October, 1992, and I was in Honolulu. I had been fortunate enough that year to have had the means to attend the annual meeting of Westpac, the western Pacific chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries. And so, on Saturday, October 24, I was at one of the social events of the conference, a luau, when I heard the news that the Toronto Blue Jays had won the World Series. It was easy to get that news, because several of the attendees had brought radios with them to the luau. It was a bit of a treat to be in the U.S. when a Canadian franchise won the series for the first time.
As any sensible person would, I had planned to stay on for a few days of vacation after the conference. I found out that it wasn’t nearly so easy to keep up with the news of the Charlottetown Accord referenda, held on October 26, as it had been the World Series. Younger readers may find it hard to believe this, but in October, 1992, hardly anybody in the legal and law library communities was aware that there even was such a thing as the World Wide Web. I knew lots of Canadian tourists went to Honolulu. I had thought maybe the cable tv in the hotels would carry a Canadian station or two. No such luck. With all the flights between different parts of Canada and Hawaii, I had thought I’d be able to find a Canadian newspaper somewhere. I went looking for a well-stocked newsstand immediately after my arrival, and discovered that my assumption was wrong. No Canadian papers anywhere in sight. So I found a Radio Shack and bought a little short-wave radio. It was a battery-powered DX-342 that I could take with me as I explored the island. Since I hadn’t planned for this, I had a heck of a time finding times and frequencies for Radio Canada International broadcasts, but I persisted, and got my news fix.
The end of RCI shortwave broadcasting
I still have my DX-342, and it still works. I also have a Sangean P-50, which I acquired much more recently. What we don’t have any longer, however, is RCI’s shortwave service. According to the CBC, the last broadcast was on Sunday, June 24, 2012. I got the news from a recent column by Warren Kinsella. It seems that in April, RCI’s budget was reduced from $12.3 million to $2.3 million. My first reaction was that this was an odd thing to cut. Maybe somebody in management was playing that dangerous game of budget-cut chicken that either results in a reversal of the cuts, or else increased micro-management from above. But I suppose there is an argument that the internet, and satellite radio, have changed things, for some of us at least.
The end of analog tv broadcasting
It was a little less than a year ago, on September 1, 2011, that most analog television transmission ended in Canada. (According to a CBC story at the time, there was an extension for a handful of stations until August 31, 2012. The last CBC stations were to be shut down on July 31, 2012: “NOTICE: Shutdown of over-the-air analogue television transmission — July 31, 2012“.) The U.S. was ahead of us with this: See Steven James May, “Analog shut-off: U.S. moving to mobile TV while Canadians still talking transition” (March 9, 2011)(dudewhereismytv.wordpress.com)
I still use an antique, table-top, tv with no digital receiver, so I bought an inexpensive Access HD DTA1080 converter, which works just fine. I hate getting rid of old things that still do what I want them to do. It doesn’t mean I don’t like the new things too. I’m just irked by the new things that–by design!–don’t do what they should do. So don’t get me started on the garden-variety PVR.
Anyway, I also have a perfectly good Sony Watchman FDL-22 which no longer has anything to receive. Some interesting ideas are suggested by a swell video on YouTube, “How to convert a Sony FDL-E22U LCD pocket TV into an AV monitor,” but a complete configuration, including a digital converter, wouldn’t likely be portable anymore.
So what’s the replacement product?
Shouldn’t there just be a digital Sony Watchman? I’ve asked at a number of gadget stores, and got nothing but blank stares.
The obvious ideas are to receive content by a local terrestrial broadcast signal, by satellite, or over a wireless internet connecton of some sort. Lots of radio stations stream their live content. TV stations are delivering selected content over the internet too, but it’s seldom as simple as just choosing a channel and leaving it on, as with conventional broadcasting. In fact, my impression is that tv stations are doing less of that sort of thing than they used to do. Of course, I’m not suggesting that downloading a particular program, even on a pay-per-view basis, isn’t a nice option to have sometimes too.
The Globe & Mail recently had an article on a U.S. company, Aereo, which is trying to redistribute broadcast signals: Lisa Richwine and Liana B. Baker, “Mobile TV app could upend the cable-broadcast business,” July 13, 2012 (theglobeandmail.com). The case in question is ABC v. Aereo, Inc., Docket Number: 1:2012cv01540 (Justia), 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96309, 2012 WL 2848158 (S.D.N.Y.). Of course, Ted Rogers did pretty much the same thing in Canada, once upon a time, with cable distribution, and the CRTC has been wrestling with the policy implications ever since. (See, for example, Capital Cities Communications Inc. v. Canadian Radio-Television Commission,  2 S.C.R. 141, 1977 CanLII 12 (SCC) and Reference re Broadcasting Act, 2012 SCC 4 (CanLII).) Some of those questions are currently being considered, yet again, by the Supreme Court of Canada: Cogeco Cable Inc. v. Bell Media Inc., Docket 34231,  S.C.C.A. No. 202; on appeal from 2011 FCA 64 (CanLII). (The original reference was in Broadcasting Order CRTC 2010-168.) An article by Simon Houpt, “High Court ponders demise of free TV,” Globe & Mail, Wednesday, April 18, 2012, p. R1 (QL)(WL)(theglobeandmail.com), from the April 18th Globe & Mail, provides a brief review of some of these issues. Another recent development is Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2012-385, in which the CRTC decided to phase out the Local Programming Improvement Fund, originally established by Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2008-100. An interesting article on the impact of this decision is Meredith Macleod, “CHCH hit by loss of programming fund, Hamilton Spectator, Friday, 27 July 2012, p. A14, col.1 (QL)(thespec.com.)
Some smartphones still come with an analog FM radio receiver. According to a May 24, 2012, posting on humandmt.com by Delainey Maughs, “Online Radio Advertising Lesson 6: What if My Business Needs to Communicate During a Disaster?“:
The FM feature has been available in the past, but removed from many current phone models due to lack of popularity and to make room for other features. To remedy this issue, Broadcom has developed a cost-effective all-in-one chip that houses an FM receiver, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.
He lists some of the phones that have this feature.
But what about digital radio or tv on a smartphone?
The Wikipedia article on mobile digital tv suggests that the leaders are South Korea and Japan. This is what it has to say about North America:
As of January 2012, 120 stations around the United States are broadcasting using Mobile DTV which is a mobile and handheld enhancement to the American HDTV system known as ATSC-M/H. The HDTV system was originally designed for fixed reception only and was subject to multipath interference.
The FCC also chose HD Radio which uses COFDM and has reasonable mobile reception, does not have provisions for mobile TV as DAB-T has with DMB-T and is incompatible even with neighboring Canada, where the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) already chose DAB in the L band.
The article, when I looked at it, cited “OMVC announces sizable growth in number of MDTV stations at CES” (Jan 19, 2012)(broadcastengineering.com). OMVC is the Open Media Video Coalition. It calls itself “an alliance of U.S. commercial and public broadcasters formed to accelerate the development and rollout of mobile DTV products and services.” Its members include the Association of Public Televisions Stations, CPB, PBS, NBC Universal, and Fox Television Stations.
So far as Canada is concerned, however, there seem to be problems with the Wikipedia article.
I’ll confess right now that I’m never very confident in my ability, as a mere dabbler, to find relevant materials on the CRTC and Industry Canada websites. Nevertheless, here goes. A good starting place would appear to be the CRTC’s “Navigating Convergence: Charting Canadian Communications Change and Regulatory Implications” (February 2010). In “Appendix 1 – New multimedia broadcasting technologies”, we read:
A point-to-multipoint system is similar to a traditional OTA broadcasting system in that content is broadcast en masse to mobile devices equipped with compatible tuners.
Where point-to-multipoint audio services are concerned, traditional radio services as well as satellite radio services such as those provided by XM Radio and Sirius are readily available in the Canadian marketplace. This is not the case for point-to-multipoint mobile television services, as there are currently no such services offered in Canada.
Technologies that can provide the mobile point-to-multipoint audiovisual streams include DVB-H , ATSC-M/H , MediaFLO , and T-DMB . Such services operate across a variety of radio bands, with the 700 MHz band considered prime spectrum due to its superior propagation characteristics compared to higher frequency bands and its lower cost per bit delivery for mobile television services.
 Officially endorsed by the European Union as the preferred technology for terrestrial mobile broadcasting, DVB-H is a transmission standard that uses time-slicing in order to ensure smooth transfer of the transmission from one network cell to another. DVB-H creates a bridge between the classical broadcast systems and the cellular radio network, the broadband high-capacity downstream channel provided by DVB-H features a data-rate of several mpbs and may be used for audio and video streaming applications, file downloads and for many other kinds of services.
 ATSC-M/H shares the same RF channel as the standard ATSC television broadcast service. The standard ATSC data and the M/H (mobile and handheld) data are time-division multiplexed together to share the same RF channel, meaning it is an in-band system as it does not utilize dedicated spectrum. As such, no additional spectrum is required to introduce the service. If a regular ATSC system is in place, only an M/H exciter is required to offer the service. Regular ATSC DTV receivers receive the DTV signals while the M/H receivers decode the M/H service.
 Created by Qualcomm, MediaFLO is a mobile broadcast platform designed for the delivery of streaming video and audio, IP datacasting and interactive services. The MediaFLO system ingests video content from satellite feeds, reformats the video and distributes it to multiple regional transmitter sites that broadcast the video to MediaFLO-enabled mobile devices within range of the towers. The system also provides for a reverse link to mobile devices using 3G networks. More information on the MediaFLO system can be found at http://www.mediaflo.com/mediaflo/index.html.
 T-DMB is made for transmissions on radio frequency bands band III (VHF) and L (UHF), for terrestrial. In Canada, the first band is allocated for television broadcasting (VHF channels 7 to 13), but the L-band could be used.
Internet delivery in Canada
As noted above, we do have Sirius-XM Canada for satellite radio. According to Wikipedia, although Sirius and XM merged corporately in 2011, they are still technologically distinct from one another (and from DAB too, of course.) But if you want Sirius or XM on your smartphone, it will just be an internet connection. Similarly, for tv, none of Shaw Direct, Bell Satellite TV or Telus Satellite TV works directly with a mobile device (as far as I can tell, anyway). Instead, we have internet services, such as Mobi TV (available in Canada through Telus), Bell Mobile TV and Rogers Vision. Netflix and the like too, I suppose. (See Commission Letter, April 16, 2012 (crtc.gc.ca) and “Results of the fact-finding exercise on the over-the-top programming services” (October 2011)(crtc.gc.ca).) I haven’t really gone digging on this, so there may be more options.
DMB/DAB in Canada?
DMB is Digital Multimedia Broadcasting. It is the tv complement to DAB (Eureka 147), which is Digital Audio Broadcasting. DAB radio has been dead in Canada for some time, and we never had DMB tv. Not long after an Industry Canada consultation in December 2009, “Notice No. DGTP-010-09 – Consultation on the Spectrum Allocations and Spectrum Utilization Policies for the Frequency Range 1435-1525 MHz (L-Band),” most (maybe all) of the DAB radio stations stopped broadcasting. Canada’s current status (“Countries with interest”) on the DAB map is debatable, to say the least.
DVB-H in Canada?
DVB-H is Digital Video Broadcasting – Handheld. It is a project of ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute. There is a project website at http://www.dvb-h.org/, and a report on that site that Look tested this system on the 401 near Milton in 2008. For whatever that’s worth.
MediaFLO in Canada?
According to Wikipedia, MediaFLO (“Forward Link Only”) discontinued its services in the U.S. in March 2011. It had operated as a subscription service.
ATSC-M/H in Canada?
ATSC-M/H is Advanced Television Systems Committee – Mobile/Handheld. The ATSC describes itself as “an international, non-profit organization developing voluntary standards for digital television.” The current (October 2009) version of the standard is
“A/153: ATSC Mobile DTV Standard, Parts 1-9.” There are a number of reports and white papers at mobiletvworld.com suggesting the system has potential in the U.S, at least. One of these, “OMVC Mobile TV Study December 2009,” conducted by Magid Media Labs in partnership with the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), reported:
U.S. mobile consumers appear ready to embrace live mobile TV, with nearly half saying that watching live digital television (DTV) via a mobile device is appealing. This interest is driven in large part by local programming, with nearly 90% of mobile device owners expressing interest in watching live news and weather programming on-the-go.
In March 2010, the CRTC posted a story, “Communications Research Centre (CRC) to Test Mobile Digital Television Broadcasting in Ottawa Area“, on its website. In March 2012, Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2012-142 allowed Hamilton’s CHCH to switch from channel 11 to channel 15. The CRTC noted that one of the reasons the applicant gave for wanting the change was: “mobile DTV operates better on UHF channels (channel 14-51) than on VHF channels (channels 2-13).” In June 2012, Steven James May blogged that CBC was testing ATSC Mobile DTV again. So maybe it’s really going to happen here.
In July 2010, Steven James May made an interesting submission, “What a Difference an Antenna Makes: Imagining Free Mobile Television in Canada,” in response to Industry Canada’s Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage: Strategies for Sustainable Prosperity: Consultation Paper on a Digital Economy Strategy for Canada. He wrote:
In addition to desperately needed infrastructure, it is vital that Canadians are able to access the types of devices that will allow them to receive Mobile TV. If wireless carriers are not going to provide users with such phones, Canadians must be allowed to obtain such ATSC Mobile TV phones (for example, the Samsung Moment) independently and be able to use them with their carrier of choice. … Furthermore, while wireless carriers will no doubt want to bundle their 3G (and future 4G) services with their mobile devices, wireless carriers must not be able to restrict the use of Mobile TV by requiring that users sign up to a premium subscription in order to access mobile television that is already free-to-air.
Future of Broadcasting?
I love the internet, but there are still occasionally reasons to consume information via a broadcast signal. As Kinsella, Maughs and May have observed in the articles cited above, the internet, as most of us now access it, is vulnerable to all sorts of disruption.