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No consumer sympathy

A warning from Canada’s biggest media companies that their survival is under threat from unregulated foreign rivals and illicit content pirates has sparked a massive influx of submissions to the federal telecommunications regulator from consumers with little sympathy for their cause.

Midway through a 30-day public consultation that is open until March 1, more than 5,440 responses have been posted with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission — predominantly focused on one issue.

There's been a huge outpouring of criticism against an anti-piracy proposal launched last month by a coalition led by BCE Inc., the owner of the CTV television network and specialty channels such as TSN.

"Those numbers are pretty remarkable," said University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, an outspoken critic of the industry's calls for increased protections.

FairPlay Canada, which also includes Rogers Communications Inc., Cineplex Inc., the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and others, are calling for a new federal agency to locate and shut down websites that are portals for pirated content.

But the organization shouldn't be surprised that the public is actively interested in how the internet is run, Geist said.

"I think they realize that we're all dependent on the internet for so many aspects of our lives."

In fact, many of Canada's major media companies have said that the life-blood of their industry — money — is flowing through the internet to unregulated foreign rivals and to illegal websites that haven't paid for content rights.

For BCE, which owns the Bell Canada telecommunications business in addition to its media holdings, the problem is multi-pronged.

Not only must BCE help pay for Canadian content, it wrote, but its deep-pocketed foreign rivals like Netflix are bidding up the price of Canadian rights to foreign programs — primarily popular American television shows.

"We rely on this content to bring in audiences and advertising dollars, which then supports the production of Canadian content," Bell said.

And while the Trudeau government seems determined to support Canadian content as a cultural imperative, there's little consensus on how to accomplish that goal.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly has given the CRTC until June 1 to submit a report to cabinet that outlines the possible future of the broadcast distribution system, including how it can support Canadian content.

But many of the public submissions about the future form of the industry, like those about content piracy, are unsympathetic to the domestic industry's concerns about being required to fund Canadian content as they have in the past.



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