Not our fight!

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher

As if it isn’t annoying enough to have to sit through countless and endless commercials on television while we are waiting to see who will be voted off of Survivor or who will be the last to check in on the Amazing Race, we now have to watch/listen to television stations and the cable companies battle it out during programming breaks.

The television companies – the big guys, CTV, Global, etc. – want us to support them in their fight to urge the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to order the cable companies – Rogers, Shaw etc. – to pay them a fee to carry their programming.

This fight has been going on for a while, but it seems to have been ramped up over the last few months. The television stations have been airing spots with some guy randomly stopping (sure) people on the street to ask how they feel about the cable companies “ripping off consumers”. They also have a guy in a field singing a catchy tune about how the cable companies are milking consumers that goes on and on and on. And we have to sit and listen because we don’t want to miss the beginning of the next segment of our favourite show.

The cable companies are fighting back with their own spots – thanks to the fact that Rogers, in our viewing area, owns its own radio and television stations – claiming that the television companies are crying poor after making billions of dollars in profits last year. (Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.)

What is at stake here is what is being called a fee-for-carriage that the television companies are seeking from the cable companies. What they want, in essence, is for the CRTC to order the cable (and satellite) companies to pay them a fee for carrying their signals into the homes of their customers.

One would have thought that the television companies would have been happy with this arrangement since cable allows their programming to be viewed more clearly and by a much larger audience. Remember the old days when we either had to rely on those ugly antennas on the roof tops or, gasp, the even uglier and usually useless ‘rabbit ears’ that sat on top of the television sets? What a difference cable has made for us, the consumers.

Although, now, with the ever increasing cost of cable service, we may soon have to go back to the ‘rabbit ears’.

Here are two very rich and powerful communications entities fighting each other and trying to draw us into their fight. In the end, whoever wins, we will lose because the increased costs will be added to our monthly bills. The cable companies have already stated that if they have to pay this fee-for-carriage, they will have to pass the cost on to their customers.

While the television companies say the cable companies should foot the bill themselves, they are being disingenuous. The bottom line is all that matters to these companies. None of them will take a financial hit themselves. They will always find a way to pass on any increase in their costs to us.

What they are trying to do with these television spots is to get us angry enough with one side or the other so that we will sign their petitions, call or write to somebody on their behalf. Let’s not get caught up in any of it. As one Caribbean saying goes, “cockroach has no place in fowl fight”.

What the television companies seem to be doing is using all of this – and the uncertain economy – as an excuse to lay off staff and close unprofitable stations, mostly in rural areas. They have already started.

Here’s an idea (and it’s not original): Why don’t the cable companies stop carrying the signals for these television companies for a week or two and let’s see what happens to their advertising revenues. Or the television companies could voluntarily block their signals from cable. We, of course, will still be able to get our local news on CITY-TV, which is owned by Rogers. Imagine that! And we will still get all or most of our favourite programming from the U.S. stations, again, via Rogers.

What we should be doing is demanding that the CRTC provide more competition in our market so that we don’t have to depend so much on companies like Rogers. That should help to keep our monthly fees manageable.

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