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There’s an ongoing debate being broadcast and put in print across the entire country.  Two different teams presenting two different vantage points, pushing for (almost) the same thing.  Months ago, CTV launched http://www.savelocal.CTV.ca – a website designed to inform broadcast television consumers about the new “tv tax” that’s been put on the table as a means to help protect local stations from going belly up. It’s made strides with its point of view, stating that when the tax is imposed, cable and satellite service providers will just let it roll downhill onto the consumer’s doorstep – not an entirely unrealistic theory.  In fact, service providers have already voluntarily admitted the intent, being warm and up-front honest letting the good customer know the increase might equate to $5 – $10 on monthly bills.

Local-TV-MattersA sub-page of the website – http://localtvmatters.ca/the-facts – counters that honesty, suggesting that it’s impossible to even apply a projected range to the increase given that 1. the tax isn’t even approved for imposition and 2. negotiations would then take place. Also on that particular page is representation of other network logos, including those of Global, A and publicly owned CBC. And, that’s not the only private-sector arrangement CBC’s gotten involved with lately, they’ve also snuggled up with the National Post in a two way exchange. CBC’s evolved exceptionally well over the last year or so – especially with respect to diversifying programming and kicking up their overall aesthetic but its not clear how a public/private arrangement will effect things in the longer term.

To counteract the assertions major networks are making, a second website dealing with the issues, http://www.stopthetvtax.ca, was launched. Almost exactly mirroring the overall message of CTV-lead Local TV Matters, it takes some reading to realize who’s attacking who.  Both websites have a days, hours, minutes and seconds countdown, both are urging visitors to contact the CRTC and both are fighting the imposition of any tax at all.  What’s different is this website sets the stage for service providers to cry wolf and say they’re barely making a cent.  The main splash is riddled with myths that are busted by facts about the profitability of being a service provider, presented by the service providers.  Hmm.

StopTVTaxOne myth says that in actuality, providers would go broke just providing broadcast television and that they need to bundle it with other add ons and services to survive. There may be some truth to that, but something suggests that the bleeding profits from providing broadcast signals aren’t quite that dire. They’re business people, and business people don’t stick with businesses that are money losers, especially in an economic crunch (just watching Dragon’s Den will show that).  That being said, the bottom line is that both websites are pushing against having to pay the tax at all; well, at least that it shouldn’t be paid by the consumer.

The coalition behind Local TV Matters is saying local TV is necessary and their feedback is that people want it… this fee’s coming, (is also necessary) and providers are going to come after consumers, and they’re already ripping them off. Stop The TV Tax on the other hand is saying the tax isn’t even the right answer, that they have no choice but to pass it on if it was imposed and even say “Canada’s big networks want the CRTC to impose another new fee on your bill” – true, but the CRTC doesn’t impose the fee being on the bill, and that’s misleading.

In fact, the CRTC issued this statement:

Consumers should contact their service suppliers, as this increase is not required or regulated by the CRTC. The CRTC considers that these companies can absorb a contribution to the LPIF of this size and does not see any reason why these supplemental costs should be transferred to their subscribers.

The LPIF by the way is the Local Programming Improvement Fund (a separate fund altogether), which received an increased contribution back in 2008, who paid for that you might wonder? If the guess was that it was passed onto consumers through small bill increases; that’s correct. And, even with that increase, the CRTC recommended against the trickle down effect. Providers defend themselves by saying that they’re obligated by law to broadcast the currently ‘free-to-air’ local signals, and imply that if they have no choice but to broadcast, consumers have no choice but to pay.

Regardless, they should be legally obligated to broadcast those signals; it shouldn’t be optional to pick up the local signal. And, don’t forget that providers are already (willingly) shelling out “in excess of $300 million” a year to US broadcasters according to Local TV Matters. They also provide the tidbit that in the last five years, basic cable bills have gone up more then four times the cost of living.

It doesn’t take an analyst to prove that; a quick comparison of the bills coming into my house put broadcast providers comfortably at the top in terms of how much it eats into income, after shelter (which is expected to take the lion’s share).

So, until November 2 when decisions are made that will no doubt change quite a lot, it’s a matter of public opinion and you just have to decide what side of the line to stand on.

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