Appearance before the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development – May 12, 2021
Concerns have been expressed over ECCC’s plans to decommission some of the 230 VHF (very high frequency) radio transmitters that provide Weatheradio service across Canada.
Points to register
Weather services are the most frequently sought out service offered by the Government as evidenced by the 50 million visits monthly to the ECCC Weather website.
Weather services are delivered to the public through an array of dissemination technologies including the Internet, a mobile app, commercial and public broadcasters, VHF Weatheradio, telephone, social media and the National Public Alerting System.
VHF Weatheradio is not a widely known or extensively used service. Given the exponential growth of digital delivery channels, ECCC has been evaluating whether VHF radio remains relevant in some parts of the country, particularly those areas with high mobile service availability.
However, no final decisions have been made on the decommissioning of any of the 230 Weatheradio transmitters across Canada.
A plan for ongoing engagement with the Weatheradio user community over the spring and summer of 2021 has been developed. This will involve a variety of means of soliciting feedback, including a questionnaire, to help understand the extent of usage and the dependencies that exists for Weatheradio.
Decommissioning of transmitters will only be considered in areas where it can be confirmed that there is no longer a user community dependent on this service channel.
Meanwhile investments are being made to improve the quality of Weatheradio service with a new text-to-speech engine that will allow a richer range of weather information to be broadcast on the service.
Weatheradio was first introduced in the 1970s as a supplementary service channel to the few available delivery channels at the time, i.e. commercial and public broadcasters and telephone.
Reliable audience data is difficult to obtain given the one-way nature of the service but feedback suggests the service has a small user base.
Given today’s extensive use of Internet- and mobile-based technologies, the significant costs of operating such a large Weatheradio transmitter network may no longer be warranted. Hence ECCC undertook an analysis to determine where it might be reasonable to consider limited decommissioning.
An initial forty-eight (48) of 230 transmitters (about 20%) in the Weatheradio Canada network were proposed for consideration.
Letters were sent to mayors of communities within coverage areas, and for three weeks between August-September 2020 these transmitters broadcast a message soliciting feedback. Approximately 350 pieces of feedback from across Canada have been received to date by phone or email.
A further phase of user engagement will be carried out in 2021. The approach will include working through MPs offices to offer opportunities to engage with users. This will help to refine our understanding of the usage of Weatheradio in each affected community.
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