There is a bit of a battle going on between broadcasters and cable suppliers in Canada right now. The broadcasters are asking that they be paid by the cable industry who carry their signals in regional markets. The cable and satellite purveyors think this is outrageous because the signal is captured ‘off air’ and it is therefore a free signal.

This battle is being waged through a series of hearings by the CRTC (Canadian equivalent of the FCC). Shaw cable is one of the ‘whales’ of the cable industry, supplying not only Cable, but also Internet and Phone services in many urban areas of Canada. In the fourth quarter of 2007 it boasted a $112 million profit on almost $744 million in revenue. This is hardly a ‘poor’ company trying to eek out a living! The Company serves 3.3 million customers, including approximately 1.5 million Internet and 400,000 residential Digital Phone customers.

I am a customer of Shaw, my cable bill keeps going up, and the number of channels goes up, while the quality of programming continues on a downward spiral.

It was with great humor that I read the following quote from Shaw CEO Jim Shaw on the subject of giving a few dollars to the regional companies whose signals Shaw filch.

“We operate in a competitive environment where to be successful we must offer our customers choice, value, innovation and high quality service. But the CRTC seems to think you can keep Canadians tuned into Canadian broadcasting by forcing them to do so, restricting their choice, and charging them for broadcasting services that are free over-the-air. It is a naive approach that totally ignores the communications environment in which we live where consumers have many unregulated options from the Internet to U.S. Satellite services.”

Without these regional broadcasters there would be no local programming whatsoever. Let us hope that their quest to get into Jim Shaw’s wallet is successful, and the CRTC prevent him from passing the cost on to the consumer.

Simon Barrett

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