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CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein

Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick 2008

Canada's television regulator has launched a website for the public to register their opinions ahead a round of hearings that could determine whether local TV stations can charge cable and satellite companies for distributing their programs.

The debate over the issue, known as fee for carriage, has generated heated newspaper and TV ad campaigns from both sides, and tense exchanges between industry executives.

Broadcasters such as CanWest Global Communications Corp. and privately held CTVglobemedia Inc. argue they should be able to charge cable and satellite firms such as Rogers Wireless Communications Inc. and Bell TV for their signals.

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The broadcasters say the rise of the cable and satellite companies has hurt their business and warn that local TV stations may be forced to close if the current regime isn't changed.

The cable and satellite firms, meanwhile, say the fees would lead to bigger bills for subscribers because the new costs would be passed on to consumers. They have branded fee for carriage as a "TV tax" that could cost each subscriber up to an extra $10 a month.

Cable and satellite companies do not currently pay a fee for local TV signals and must distribute them as part of their basic service.

Both sides have been vocal in arguing their positions and have set up websites to promote their respective sides.

The broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, is set to hold hearings on the issue starting on Dec. 7 in Gatineau, Que.

The CRTC says it is aware that the issue has generated considerable public interest and launched its website on Monday so people could register their opinions.

The website will be open for comments until Dec. 21, and the regulator noted in its announcement that it has "already received numerous comments since the public hearing was announced."

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