Save local TV, stop the TV tax!

I agree with both sides—because they're both wrong

Sorting through the duelling barrages in the interminable public relations war between the cable and broadcast industries over “fee for carriage” — now mercifully coming to an end — I find myself agreeing with both sides.

Yes, it is unfair that cable companies should get to use the broadcasters’ signals for free. And yes, it is outrageous that the broadcasters should be foisting another tax on the long-suffering television public (to say nothing of using their news programs to promote it): because if the cable companies are forced to pay the broadcasters for their signals, you can bet the consumer will wind up paying for it in the end.

In any logical universe, there would be a simple solution to this. In that universe, the broadcasters could charge a fee for their signals if they wished — but cable companies would be under no obligation to carry them. Cable companies could pass on these fees to consumers — but consumers would not be forced to subscribe to channels they didn’t want. Instead of forbidding broadcasters to charge for signals the cable companies are obliged to carry that consumers are then forced to pay for, nobody would be forced or forbidden to do anything.

And in the end, everyone would have to compromise, and to share. The broadcasters and the cable companies would negotiate fees between them — it would be more than zero, probably, but less than the broadcasters would prefer. The cable companies would try to pass this on to the consumer, succeeding only in part.

But that’s not the world we live in — not in this country. In this country, everything is decided by the CRTC, everything is based on force, and as a consequence, nobody has any incentive to share or compromise: it’s winner take all, depending on who can get the CRTC to side with them. So rather than focus on making better programs, or cutting rates, or otherwise improving their product, both sides spend inordinate amounts on crude propaganda campaigns trying to sway the public their way, and thus to pressure the CRTC and/or the cabinet to award them the prize.

So, as I say, I agree with both of them, but only because they’re both wrong.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.