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The Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) weighed in yesterday on the public debate on whether cable and satellite operators should be called upon to pay over-the-air (OTA) television broadcasters for the distribution of local signals.

The CCA supports the introduction of a value for signal payment, provided that the CRTC also imposes Canadian programming expenditure requirements on OTA broadcasters equivalent to 6% of their revenue.  In order to protect the interests of Canadian consumers, the CCA urges the CRTC to regulate  cable and satellite rates,  ensuring that this eventual payment, as well as the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF) contribution, not be passed on to consumers.

Twice, the CRTC has rejected a “fee for carriage”, which broadcasters now call “value for signal”. Recently,  cable and satellite companies used traditional advertising as well as social networking tools like Facebook to denounce this “tax on television”, which they claim they will be forced to pass on to consumers.

This concern is behind the federal government’s call for the CRTC to hold a public hearing measuring the impact on Canadian consumers of the measure under consideration. The hearing is scheduled to begin on December 7, 2009 in Gatineau (Québec).

In the brief filed with the CRTC yesterday, the CCA notes that with profits of $2 billion a year, the distribution companies can and should absorb the new contribution aiming at ensuring that Canadians have access to quality Canadian programming.  The National Director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts, Alain Pineau, says that “this conforms with the letter and spirit of the Broadcasting Act, and with the principles which led the Canadian Parliament over 40 years ago to legislate and regulate the Canadian broadcasting system.”

The CCA invites the CRTC to set the proper level of contribution, taking into account the impact this would have on both the broadcasters and the distribution undertakings.  Says Pineau: “given the tone that the debate has taken in recent months, it would be utopian and irresponsible to hope that such an issue can be determined through direct negotiations between the parties involved.”

The Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) is the national forum for arts, culture, and heritage.