CRTC begins hearing into TV's future

Canada's broadcast regulator started a hearing Monday to find out what the public thinks about the direction television should take in the future.

Canada's broadcast regulator started a hearing Monday to find out what direction the public thinks television should take in the future.

For the past several weeks, cable companies and broadcasters have waged a public-relations war over whether the cable companies should be forced to pay the conventional television networks a fee for carrying their programs.

When the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission set up a website, and asked for opinions on the issue, more than 190,000 people across the country responded. The CRTC doesn't typically see this kind of response, but then again broadcast regulatory issues rarely spark warring ad campaigns.

The two sides of the argument have been advertising on television, in newspapers, and at the websites LocalTVMatters.ca and StoptheTVTax.ca, each trying to paint the other as the bad guy.

Among other issues, the CRTC wants to hear the public's opinion on local television content, the consumers' ability to choose different types of channels and packages, and the affordability of cable and satellite television services.

Russell McOrmond, a software author and blogger from Ottawa with an interest in technology and government regulation, will be making a presentation this week.

He says broadcasters produce little local TV, and cable companies are wrong to label the proposed fees a "tax."

McOrmond calls them "dinosaurs" fighting over a market that's shifting beneath them.

"The internet will replace cable and phone companies. So, while this debate seems so small, it's a small piece of a larger decision that's happening," McOrmond said.

He says he should only have to pay for the TV channels he watches.

As for local content, he'd like a fund to support individual programs, not the broadcasters.

John Stevenson, the president of University of Ottawa's campus radio station, agrees.

"We do have to think about that future, where local TV stations have an even smaller proportion of viewership, and where we're going to want to depend on a broader range of institutions to deliver local information," Stevenson said.

The CRTC will have to go through thousands of opinions and recommendations, and then produce a report for federal government.

But both McOrmand and Stevenson say legislation limits how much the CRTC can do, and the government might have to step in so people can get the programs they want at the right price and in the right place.