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The Globe and Mail

Public opinion battle invites reality check

Who could blame TV audiences for being a little confused? The public battle between Canada's national TV networks and the cable and satellite distributors over whether CTV, Global and CBC should be compensated for their signals has resulted in a flood of public appeals urging the government to "Save Local TV" or "Stop the TV Tax." But many of the salient facts are being glossed over in these campaigns. Here's a reality check on some of them.

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Cable companies: Your bill will go up $10 a month

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To strike fear into consumers' hearts, the cable and satellite players say that if the big TV networks are allowed to charge for their signals, bills will go up by $10. The figure assumes every conventional TV channel on basic cable in the Toronto market would be allowed to collect monthly fees. But the CRTC is not eager to allow that - publicly funded CBC could be shut out, for one thing. And basing the figure on the Toronto market inflates the cost in other areas significantly. Bottom line: If the fees ever got implemented, they would likely add two or three dollars to the average bill in most of Canada.

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Broadcasters: The money is for local TV, and only local TV

Although ads from the TV networks say the money is needed to save local stations and fund local supper-hour newscasts, morning shows and the like, the broadcasters have been careful not to fully commit to where they will spend the dollars. The networks have suggested to the CRTC that the money should not be earmarked. The CRTC has yet to receive a commitment from the networks to show, to an auditor's satisfaction, the exact dollars flowing to specific local TV stations.

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Cable Companies: Why pay for something that's free?

The cable and satellite carriers are quick to point out that the broadcasters should not be allowed to suddenly charge the distributors for signals that are otherwise free to consumers with an antenna. While this is technically true - the signals of CTV, CBC and Global, among others, are free over the air - the reality is the vast majority of the country no longer bothers with rabbit ears.

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Broadcasters: Write your MP. Cable rates should be regulated

Don't waste your time and postage. Ottawa's appetite for regulating cable bills is virtually non-existent. The Harper government isn't in favour of more regulation and CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein has been pushing his organization to pare down what it regulates.

Grant Robertson

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