Canadian TV tax debate hits the airwaves

Broadcasters team for 'Stop the TV Tax' campaign

TORONTO -- A growing Canadian TV industry debate on whether to tax the airwaves to subsidize struggling broadcasters has taken to the airwaves.

Canadian cable and satellite TV operators on Monday launched a media blitz to counter calls by local broadcasters for a new TV subscriber charge.

The "Stop the TV Tax" campaign from Bell Canada, Cogeco, EastLink, Rogers Communications and Telus Corp. includes radio, TV and print ads against a proposed "fee-for-carriage" tax that would see cable and satellite operators compensate domestic broadcasters for their local TV station signals.

"This tax will hit viewers for stations that have always been available for free over the air," Phil Lind, vice chairman of Rogers Communications, Canada's largest cable operator, said.

The move ends months of stealth lobbying by the cable and satellite TV operators in Ottawa against a grass-roots "Local TV Matters" public campaign by broadcasters to drum up support for a new subscriber tax (HR, Sept. 14).

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada's TV watchdog, has twice denied domestic broadcasters the right to tap cable and satellite TV revenues.

But despite facing a growing consumer backlash, the CRTC is to hold public hearings in December to consider compensating domestic broadcasters for their signals as they deal with the economic downturn and a TV ad slump (HR, Oct. 2).

The competing media blitzes by the domestic broadcasters and carriers aim in part to influence public input into the upcoming CRTC hearings, after which the federal government will make a final decision on whether the new TV tax will be allowed.