Radio Spectrum Inventory: A 2010 Snapshot — Canada

Chapter 6 – Broadcasting

6.1 Background

6.1.1 Definition of service

Broadcasting is defined in the Radiocommunication Act as "any radiocommunication in which the transmissions are intended for direct reception by the general public." Most broadcasting operations in Canada require a broadcasting certificate from Industry Canada and a broadcasting licence from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

6.1.2 Broad description of type of service/applications

Broadcasting has a long history in Canada. AM radio is one of the oldest forms of commercial broadcasting. The AM station CBK in Watrous, Saskatchewan, has been operating since July 29, 1939. AM radio operates in the medium frequency band between 525 and 1705 kHz, with 10 kHz channels.

FM radio was introduced several decades later and became more popular than AM, due to improved signal reception quality, especially in urban environments. FM radio operates in the VHF band (88-108 MHz with 200 kHz channels).

Over the air television operates in the VHF and UHF bands (54-72 MHz, 76-88 MHz, 174-216 MHz, 470-806 MHz) with 6 MHz channels. In the last decade, digital television operations have been introduced and will eventually replace the older analog television technology.

In the late 1990s, newer broadcasting services, such as the Multipoint Distribution Service (MDS) and digital radio broadcasting (DRB), were introduced in Canada. MDS operations involve using large blocks of 6 MHz channels to provide data and video transmission to subscribers in a wireless cable operation. In DRB, up to five broadcasting (i.e. an ensemble)/ancillary services can share a 1.536 MHz DRB channel in an area. DRB operates in a network of co-channel transmitters, called synchronized Single Frequency Network (SFN), which provide a multiplex service to a digital service area.

In many broadcasting services, stations are also classified as regular and low-power. Low-power operations are secondary to regular broadcasting systems and generally operate with smaller transmitter power and have smaller coverage areas (less than a 20 km radius).

6.2 Current Allocations and Utilization

6.2.1 List of allocated bands

  • AM: 525-1705 kHz
  • FM: 88-108 MHz
  • TV: 54-72 MHz, 76-88 MHz, 174-216 MHz, 470-806 MHz
  • MDS: 2596-2686 MHz
  • DRB: 1452-1492 MHz

6.2.2 Type of licence

Broadcasting stations in all of the previously mentioned bands are issued broadcasting certificates by Industry Canada. These authorizations are for specific sites, generally with a single high-powered transmitting antenna covering a large area. In some bands, operators have networks of stations to cover a larger area. Broadcasting stations often also require a broadcasting licence from the CRTC.

6.2.3 Comparison with the United States

Canada and the United States have similar AM and FM radio services. AM and FM receivers for analog radio services work in both countries. The United States has begun allowing hybrid digital operations (IBOC) in its AM and FM radio bands. Canada currently allows this digital technology in the FM band on an experimental basis.

For television, Canada and the United States have historically had similar broadcasting operations. The transition to digital television in the United States has been completed faster than the equivalent in Canada. While transition in the United States finished in June 2009, the Canadian transition is anticipated to be complete in major markets in August 2011, and will take longer outside the major markets. As part of the transition to digital, the television band in the United States has been truncated approximately 100 MHz, with the band 698-806 MHz being reallocated for other purposes. In Canada, a similar reallocation is planned for after August 2011, although details have not yet been officially announced.

DRB is not implemented in the United States as it is in Canada. The United States has allocated the band 1435-1525 MHz for its aeronautical telemetry operations and has authorized hybrid digital radio operations using In-Band On-Channel (IBOC) technology in the AM and FM radio bands.

MDS systems similar to those in Canada were introduced in the United States, but licences were awarded in auctions instead of on a first-come, first-served basis, as was done in Canada. In 2005, the United States transitioned its MDS allocations to BRS. Canada will be transitioning its MDS broadcasting certificates to BRS licences in 2011.

Link to Industry Canada's BRS Decisions.

Link to the BRS Information:

Broadcast Service use from 52 MHz to 38GHz (for additional information, refer to Annex 1):
Broadcast Service use from 52 Megahertz to 38 Gigahertz [Description of Figure]

6.3 Spectrum Inventory and Analysis

AM radio (525-1705 kHz)

As of June 2010, there were 353 AM stations operating in Canada: 202 regular and 151 low-power.

Major users include CBC/Radio-Canada (143 stations), Astral Media (22 stations), Newcap (26 stations), and Golden West Broadcasting (13 stations). There were 95 unique AM broadcasting stations owners, 65 for regular stations only.

FM Radio (88-108 MHz)

As of June 2010, there were 2,349 FM stations operating in Canada: 1,456 regular and 893 low-power.

Major users include CBC/Radio-Canada (560 stations), Astral Media (62 stations), Rogers Broadcasting (60 stations), Native Communications (56 stations), Newcap (51 stations), and Northern Native Broadcasting (51 stations). There were 672 unique FM broadcasting station owners, 334 for regular stations only.

Television (54-72 MHz, 76-88  MHz, 174-216 MHz and 470-806 MHz)

As of June 2010, there were 2,079 analog TV stations in Canada: 732 regular and 1,347 low-power. There were also 25 digital TV stations in Canada, all regular.

Major users include CBC/Radio-Canada (668 stations), The Ontario Educational Communications Authority (TV Ontario) (267 stations), CTV Television (122 stations), Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (94 stations), and CanWest Television (89 stations). There were 183 unique TV broadcasting station owners, 37 for regular stations only.


As of June 2010, there were 47 MDS systems operating in Canada, all regular. Of these, 89% were approved for fifteen 6 MHz channels (90 MHz total).

Major users are Look Communications (26 systems) and YourLink Incorporated (10 systems). There were five unique MDS broadcasting owners.

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6.4 Spectrum Trends

AM radio has seen a decrease in both regular and low-power operations within the last seven years (14.3% and 9.0% respectively). FM radio has seen increases in both regular and low-power operations during the same time period (26.3% and 19.7% respectively). This can be partially explained by a number of radio stations converting from AM to FM.

Television has seen increases in regular operations (2.2% analog and 700% digital) and decreases in low-power operations (9.4%) within the last seven years. The large increase in digital television stations is due to their very low initial numbers and the beginning of the DTV transition.

MDS systems have increased by 15.4% over the last seven years.

6.4.1 Spectrum Maps

(Regular power broadcasting stations only)

Figure 6.6 – AM Broadcasting in Canada (525-1705 kHz)
Figure 6.6 [Description of Figure 6.6]
Figure 6.7 – FM Broadcasting in Canada (88-108 MHz)
Figure 6.7 [Description of Figure 6.7]
Figure 6.8 – Television Broadcasting in Canada
(54-72 MHz, 76-88 MHz, 174-216 MHz, 470-806 MHz)
Figure 6.8 [Description of Figure 6.8]
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