11/09/2012 12:20 EST | Updated 11/10/2012 08:06 EST

U.S. TV Stations In Canada: Demand For Payment Could Cost Consumers, Disrupt Local Industry

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Your cable or satellite TV bill could get heftier if a consortium of local American TV stations gets its way.

The U.S. Television Coalition, comprised of five U.S. local stations that are broadcast on Canadian cable and satellite, on Thursday called on Canada’s telecom regulator to allow them to charge for the signals broadcast into Canadian homes, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Currently, regulations allow cable and satellite companies to pick up U.S. TV signals from the air and broadcast them into Canadian homes, without charge (a fact that prompted the Globe and Mail’s Simon Houpt to declare that “it turns out we’re a nation of thieves”).

But the coalition says all that should change because of a CRTC decision, to have come into force last year, giving Canadian over-the-air broadcasters the right to consent to their signals being carried outside their local markets.

“It is regrettable that imported U.S. TV stations are denied consent and remuneration rights under Canada’s new distant station retransmission regime,” Marla Drutz, general manager of Detroit NBC affiliate WDIV, said in a statement.

However, the ability of Canadian over-the-air channels to charge TV distributors is in limbo. A group of cable TV providers has gone to the Supreme Court over the matter, arguing that the CRTC doesn’t have the jurisdiction to impose the changes.

The cable companies say allowing the new fees amount to a new kind of copyright, and only Parliament, not the CRTC, has the right to create copyright rules.

The issue has opened a rift between broadcasters and carriers.

Broadcasters want to make up for revenue lost to an ever-growing selection of TV channels. Carriers say the new fees would add to their costs, which would have to be passed down to consumers. They estimate allowing just the Canadian stations to charge would add $10 to the average cable bill. The broadcasters dispute this figure.

But allowing U.S. stations to collect fees could have more serious ramifications than just a higher cable bill.

The Globe’s Houpt points out in an analysis piece that if U.S. stations are to be treated equally under telecom regulations, it could mean that Canada would have to allow tax breaks for Canadian advertisers who place ads on U.S. stations — something that could decimate ad revenue at Canada’s local broadcasters.

Which means we’re going to keep grabbing something for nothing,” Houpt concludes.

The five stations lobbying for carriage fees are KSTP (ABC) in Minneapolis, WDIV (NBC) in Detroit, WHEC (NBC) in Rochester, and Buffalo stations WIVB (CBS) and WNLO (CW network).

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the CRTC decision cited by the U.S. TV Coalition as the basis for its request for payment from Canadian TV distributors. The CRTC ruling in question is a 2008 decision regarding retransmission consent, and not, as earlier reported, one from 2010 regarding payment for carriage.

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