Consumers weigh in with CRTC on TV fees

The federal broadcast regulator has been inundated with emails from consumers who are lining up on both sides of the TV war.

The federal broadcast regulator has been inundated with emails from consumers who are lining up on both sides of the TV war.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has asked the public to comment on whether over-the-air television broadcasters — such as CTV, Global and CBC — should be compensated for their signals by the cable and satellite industry.

It will hold hearings on the issue this month, and the deadline for the public submissions is Monday.

The consumer comments are being prompted by a heated ad campaign by the broadcasters and the cable and satellite companies.

The CRTC has said it believes the business model for the over-the-air broadcasters no longer works. The broadcasters are having a tough time in the current recession, closing stations, selling them off and reporting large losses.

It has proposed raising the fees cable and satellite firms must pay to subsidize local TV programming and instituting a new fee that cable and satellite companies would have to pay to carry conventional broadcasters' signals.

Cable and satellite companies warn that if they're forced to pay broadcasters for their signals — they'll pass that cost on to consumers.

That's the message consumers are getting in their ad campaign.

"Minister [James] Moore asked that this be about the consumer," said Mirko Bibic of satellite signal provider Bell Canada. "The consumer is standing up and having his or her voice heard, and it's clearly against a TV tax, and that's rather encouraging."

The cable firms have turned to Facebook to enlist opposition to any kind of fee.

"There are hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans — tens of thousands of people have formally filed submissions with the CRTC in favour of our position and their opposition to a TV tax," Bibic said.

The networks say it's not a tax — it's fair compensation for their signals, which the cable and satellite companies now get for free.

The government should regulate cable and satellite so basic cable rates don't rise, they say.

"On Monday, you will see a very large number of Canadians who have expressed their support for local television. Right now, we're up well in excess of 80,000," said Paul Sparkes of CTV.

Sparkes says more local stations might go under if conventional broadcasters don't get some support.

"The decisions that come out of that hearing will decide the fate of a lot of stations across the country," Sparkes said.

While both sides claim to have the public on their side, it will be the government, rather than the CRTC, that makes the final decision.

The CRTC says it will tally the yays and nays and consider submissions from both sides in the debate at hearings this month and next. 

It will then submit its recommendations to the Harper government.