Cable companies square off

The cable companies squared off against the TV networks Monday on Parliament Hill in a public-policy spat that carries implications for your cable bill and the future of network television.

OTTAWA — The cable companies squared off against the TV networks Monday on Parliament Hill in a public-policy spat that carries implications for your cable bill and the future of network television.

Cable giant Rogers urged the federal government to refuse requests by TV networks for a fee-for-carriage “bailout,” which it called a tax grab that would hike people’s cable bills.

Company vice-chairman Phil Lind told a parliamentary committee that the cost of fee-for-carriage would be passed on to cable subscribers, increasing monthly bills by more than $4.50.

And under questioning, Rogers executives warned that job cuts are possible if the change goes ahead.

Networks such as CTV and Global have been hurt by slumping ad revenues and they are pleading for federal help, saying they need a break to save local news broadcasts.

One of their top proposals is fee-for-carriage, in which cable and satellite companies would have to pay them for the right to carry their over-the-air signals.

“Please do not be fooled by the so-called fee-for-carriage solution,” Lind told the House of Commons Heritage committee.

“It is nothing more than a tax on consumers. It is one of the most insidious schemes to come around in a long time.”

“It has twice been rejected by the CRTC because, quite simply, it’s a back-door-bailout. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s a cash grab.”

Lind said the networks requesting the change have been hugely profitable in the past — and will be again.

He charged that they’re only seeking money to fund out-of-control bidding wars for U.S. programs.

He said over-the-air broadcasters have spent 25 per cent more on American shows over the last three years, while other costs grew at only two per cent a year.

“The sad fact is that most of the money CTV and Global spend on programming goes straight to Hollywood.”

However, the head of Quebecor — which owns both cable and television operations — scoffed at the suggestion that networks are going through one of their periodic, cyclical downturns.