TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian government has asked the broadcast regulator to hold another round of hearings into the idea that cable TV and satellite companies should pay conventional broadcasters for carrying their signals.
The request is unusual given that the regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, has already rejected such an arrangement, commonly known as fee-for-carriage.
The Conservative government now says it wants the CRTC to hold hearings and consider the views of the general public before producing a report on the implications of putting a fee-for-carriage system in place.
Over-the-air broadcasters such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, CTVglobemedia and Canwest Global Communications have argued they deserve some of the subscriber fees charged by cable and satellite companies.
They have said this would help offset a drop in advertising revenues they have suffered as a result of the rise of cable, satellite and specialty TV channels.
Rogers Communications, a major cable TV provider, repeated on Monday that it flatly opposes fee-for-carriage and said reviewing the issue yet again makes no sense. It also pointed out that the CRTC rejected the idea in 2007 and 2008.
“The commission got it right the first two times out; there is simply no need for a third hearing,” Rogers vice-chairman Phil Lind said in a statement.
Rogers also called fee-for-carriage an “unnecessary bailout” of the broadcasters and an “unfair tax” on cable and satellite TV subscribers.
The fight over carriage fees comes at a time of crisis for conventional broadcasters, who have seen their revenue plunge as advertisers cut spending amid the recession.
The economic crisis has forced broadcasters to cut staff and programing, and some have moved to either close or try to sell some smaller stations.
In March, CRTC Chairman Konrad Von Finckenstein said conventional broadcasters could get C$235 million ($222 million) a year if they were paid for the 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.
In July, the regulator decided that cable and satellite firms would temporarily pay more into a fund to promote local programing production and said broadcasters could use the money for news and other programing in smaller markets.
Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski; editing by Rob Wilson