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“Local TV Matters” campaign reignited after court decision yesterday

Remember those painfully earnest “local TV matters” commercials from last year? They were the result of a spat between cable companies and broadcast TV companies over whether the former should pay the latter for their signals. Well, the fight got a little more interesting yesterday—more interesting than it had been, anyway—as Rogers was dealt a defeat in court. The Federal Court of Appeals ruled that the CRTC can, if it chooses, establish a “TV tax” (as Rogers calls it) or “Save local TV” (as CBC, Global and CTV call it) to fund local broadcasters.

According to the Winnipeg Free Press:

Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B) said Tuesday it plans to file for a leave to appeal with the top court over a decision this week by the Federal Court of Appeals.

That court ruled 21 that the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission had the right to establish a regime whereby broadcasters could attach a monetary value to their signals. The CRTC itself had referred the matter to the court as it announced its plans for embarking on the regime.

But the fact that the Federal Court of Appeals’ decision was not unanimous made an appeal more attractive.

“It’s not a question of it’s a slam dunk and there was a 3–0 decision and the court ruled on the actual law. It’s a different story than that altogether,” said Phil Lind, vice-chairman of Rogers Communications Inc.

Cable and satellite companies are threatening to pass any new fees on to the customers if they lose this fight in court, but the whole thing may very well be irrelevant now: as the Globe and Mail points out, in the time that this has been before the CRTC and the court, Canada’s largest broadcasters have been swallowed by—wait for it—cable and satellite companies. Bell owns CTV, and Shaw owns Global. This might be why Rogers is the loudest remaining opponent: with their larger customer base and smaller broadcasting holdings, Big Red would almost certainly end up paying more money to Shaw and Bell than it would get in return. And we’re sure that Rogers, being the kind-hearted firm it is, would never take its anger out on its customers.

While we’re the first to celebrate legalistic victories when they help consumers, it’s worth pointing out—as the dissenting judge did in this decision—that Rogers’s case against the CRTC isn’t their usual mix of subterfuge and greed. The Broadcasting Act pretty clearly states that cable companies a) aren’t violating copyright by retransmitting local TV, and b) they can’t be charged for it. Obviously, the other judges on this case disagreed with Rogers, so the final word will go to the Supremes if they decide to hear the case. We can all go back to ignoring this issue until then.

• CRTC Reference to the Federal Court of Appeal [Federal Court of Appeal Canada]
• Rogers to take fight over TV fees to country’s top court after narrow loss [Winnipeg Free Press]
• Rogers will battle fees charge for TV signal [Toronto Star]
Rogers to take TV fee battle to top court [Globe and Mail]