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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's broadcast regulator said on Wednesday it may eventually accede to a request by struggling conventional television broadcasters that they be paid for the carriage of their signals by cable companies.
"Is the issue of fee-for-carriage dead? No, of course not. It will be raised as part of the overall systemic rethinking over the summer," said Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
"As part of the overall package there may very well be, or may not be, a fee for carriage. I can't prejudge right now," he said, adding that the issue would not be addressed at CRTC hearings late next month.
He acknowledged that conventional broadcasters, like Canwest Global Communications Corp and CTV, owned by privately held CTVglobemedia, face an acute revenue crisis.
"One of the biggest buyers of ad time is the automotive industry, and as you all know General Motors and Chrysler are facing possible bankruptcy," he told a parliamentary committee looking at the effects of the television crisis on local programing.
He said conventional broadcasters could get C$235 million ($191 million) a year if they were paid for signals from their local stations. If they were paid for all the signals carried, even in markets where they don't have local programing, they would receive C$600 million.
Rogers Communications Inc and Shaw Communications Inc would be among those who would have to pay for the broadcasting signals, but they would likely try to pass on most or all of the charges to consumers.
Von Finckenstein said the CRTC had rejected the fee-for-carriage idea, most recently last October, because local broadcasters had not convinced him that they would be able to guarantee local content.
But this did not satisfy Ron Bruinooge, a Conservative member of Parliament from Winnipeg, Manitoba, headquarters of Canwest, whose financial survival is in jeopardy.
"We might not have any content soon enough," Bruinooge said.
Liberal legislator Pablo Rodriguez told reporters afterwards his party was not opposed to the fee-for-carriage concept.
Editing by Rob Wilson