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FreeHD Canadian service cleared for launch

100 local TV channels, 150 HD cable and pay channels

TORONTO -- Canadian cable and satellite TV services suddenly have one more reason to catch up to their U.S. counterparts with their digital transition.

FreeHD Canada, a high definition satellite TV service that aims to remove obstacles to Canada's digital TV migration, has been cleared for takeoff.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada's TV watchdog, approved with strings a license for FreeHD Canada to offer around 100 local TV channels in HD for free and a further 150 Canadian and foreign cable and pay channels, also in HD.

"The Commission clearly supports in principle the offering of a package of local conventional television signals at no monthly charge to the viewers, and is predisposed to take the necessary steps to permit this to occur," the CRTC said in a ruling.

The regulator said, pending the resolution of certain issues surrounding Canada's digital transition, FreeHD Canada will be required to operate like other local satellite TV services, including rival Bell ExpressVu LP.

FreeHD aims to ease distribution bottlenecks in the Canadian market as existing cable and satellite TV services remain hard-pressed to pay for increased bandwith required as Canada prepares for its August 2011 transition from analog to digital TV.

Canada has lagged behind the U.S. market by a year or two in its digital transition, but an urgent need for costly upgrades by existing broadcasters, cable operators and other content carriers has delayed Canada's mandated end to analog over-the-air broadcasts.