Canadians warned on 2011 analog TV shut-off

Regulator says 857,000 households will lose TV signal

TORONTO -- Canada's digital transition is set to do a number on nearly one million Canadians that still fidget rabbit ear antennas to grab TV airwaves.

The CRTC, the country's TV regulator, on Friday said an estimated 857,000 households in major markets with no cable or satellite TV service will lose their free ride after Canada converts from analog to digital TV on Aug. 31, 2011.

To avoid seeing their TV sets go dark next year after the switchover, the CRTC warned homes with old school rabbit ears to purchase digital converter boxes at $75 each.

The regulator insisted the vast majority of Canadians who already subscribe to cable or satellite TV services will not lose reception after the shut-off of analog signals.

And to help convince die-hard Canadians to purchase a cable or satellite TV plan, the CRTC recommended distributors provide a free package of local TV stations to Canadians in rural markets.

The Canadian feds also plan a consumer awareness campaign from no later than March 2011 to inform consumers about the digital transition.

As with much else with local TV here, Canada has followed the U.S. lead down a digital path, with one exception.

Ottawa and the CRTC are pledged not to delay the Aug. 31, 2011 changeover, despite protests from conventional broadcasters that the digital transition is too costly for them and concerns over converter box availability.

The Canadian government's urgency over the digital transition is simple: airwaves to be vacated by broadcasters will be auctioned off to mobile phone operators, providing a fiscal bonanza for Ottawa.