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Canada's federal broadcast regulator has received hundreds of applications for its first call for digital television channels, ranging from a new "passion" network to a station dedicated to books.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission wouldn't say how many applications it has received, but industry insiders estimated there were at least 100 applications for the coveted category one channels, which will be guaranteed a spot on the dial, and another 200 applications for category two channels that are not guaranteed a spot but may eventually find their way onto TV.

There will be 10 licences handed out in category one, where the requirements for Canadian content and program expenditures are greater than in category two.

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"The digital technology gives us more room than ever before," said Michael MacMillan, chief executive officer of Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc., whose firm has submitted several applications including one for a film and documentary channel.

There are two types of signals that can travel on a cable wire: analog and digital. Digital allowing more channels to be carried.

There are currently about one million homes in Canada with digital cable, a number which is expected to jump to three million in just a few years. This is the first year the CRTC has asked for applications for digital channels.

The public hearings for these channels begin in mid-August, and the CRTC will likely hand out the licenses before Christmas.

All industry heavyweights have submitted applications this time round. For example, Global Television Network, a subsidiary of CanWest Global Communications Corp., has filed applications for all or part of 36 new channels.

Corus Entertainment Inc. filed more than 30 applications, including one for Booknet, a literature-centric channel, and another for a men's channel called Chrome TV. "We think we will see a phenomenal switch to digital in the next few years," said Paul Robertson, president, television, at Corus.

Astral Media Inc. has filed for 16 applications, including one for Cinefest, an independent and international film channel that Astral will co-own with Global.

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Children's animator Nelvana Ltd. has filed an application for the Nelvana channel, is a partner with Corus in Booknet, and is participating in six other applications jointly by the Teletoon channel.

Also, some lesser known players have submitted applications, including Web site http://www.passionvillage.com ,which is connected with a proposal to create a new station that will broadcast sex-related programming.

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