Radical idea: make the CBC web-only and use their spectrum for internet access
Depending on which government body is talking, Canada is aiming for either 100% broadband access by the end of 2014 or 77% broadband subscriptions by 2019. Now Canada has a population density of 3.7 people/km2 which ranks it around 230th in the world in population density. In other words, while 90% of the population lives within 160 km of the longest non-militarized border in the world, 10% don’t and they can live as far north as the 76° parallel (as a reference point, the US border is either the 45° or 49° parallel). That can make getting broadband to everyone difficult.
But what if the Canadian government repurposed something that already had a great reach within the country? TV reaches many places thanks to its ability to travel long distances and penetrate walls, etc. This is why using the white spaces between TV channels has been appealing for providing broadband access. But where to get all of that spectrum?
After watching the Olympics this summer on CBC entirely online along with Coronation Street, I realized that I could get all of my CBC content online without having a TV antenna. And that’s when I had a crazy idea.
Would it be possible to make the CBC an entirely web-only video broadcaster and then repurpose its TV channel frequencies for white spaces broadband (I’m not worrying about radio since it’s easier to claim people have a computer at home than have a smartphone for their car)? That would instantly open up a large chunk of prime spectrum for providing wireless broadband to a huge portion of the Canadian population. It would also cut down on the costs at the CBC as they would no longer have to maintain the broadcast facilities but instead just keep their online services running as they do now (although hopefully improved, e.g. no more Flash players). And with the money saved in the CBC’s annual budget, the federal government can repurpose those funds to make sure the broadband gets implemented and that all schools and libraries have computers to give people access to the CBC if they don’t have a computer (you don’t need anything more than a Raspberry Pi, monitor, keyboard, and mouse for that; Kano is selling such a kit for kids at $129 to give a rough price point). Take this far enough and the government could do municipal broadband across the country for free and then provide Raspberry Pis whose default SD card booted up to just watch the CBC streaming over the free internet connection for those who don’t want a computer or lack the technological know-how to stream the CBC. How amazing would that be?
Obviously this idea is absolutely nuts and will never happen. I do not see the CBC supporting the idea of cord cutting the entire nation for fear of losing the portion of the population which lacks broadband or enough computer knowledge to get to the CBC online (just like PBS in the States, the CBC is constantly worried of getting de-funded). I also don’t see (at least the Conservative) government giving away that much valuable spectrum without making someone pay for it (they might be willing to auction it off for wireless broadband, though). Heck, I don’t see many people over the age of 30 supporting the idea as they probably have not even considered the idea of cord cutting, let alone have actually done it.