Too much TV now being blamed for infrastructure woes

TORONTO — Next time you lose a cup of coffee thanks to a pothole the size of an elephant’s footprint, just be thankful for that HD television at home.

If you don’t have HD, then a new report from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), might trouble you a little more than someone who owns a good sized flat screen TV.

The report, “Highway Robbery: How Federal Telecom Rules Cost Taxpayers and Damage Public Roads,” describes a federal regulatory regime that has deprived local governments of the power to recover road management and repair costs from telecom companies that tear up and occupy roadways to expand, upgrade and operate their networks.

Property tax payers in Canadian cities are subsidizing the telecommunications industry by more than $107 million a year says the report.

“In Canada’s larger cities the current regime has cost property tax payers $646 million since 2001 in indirect subsidies to telecom companies,” said FCM president, Sherbrooke Mayor Jean Perrault. “Even as cities struggle to hold the line on property tax increases in the face of a growing infrastructure deficit, federal rules invite telecommunications companies to tear up our streets, install their cable, and leave property tax payers with a running tab.”

According to the report, municipalities are losing the ability to set parameters or recover costs related to the expansion and operation of telecom systems that run through municipally-owned property.

The report also says the CRTC has not hesitated to expand its mandate or rewrite local access agreements, despite the fact it is not equipped to understand municipal issues. This contributes to prolonged and costly negotiations, which often end up before the CRTC and the courts.

The FCM’s report however, is not condemning cable companies, or the services they provide.

“Our issue is not with the telecommunications companies, it is with successive federal governments that have swept this problem under the rug,” said Perrault. “We are calling on the current government to break with the past and fix the problem.”

FCM is asking the federal government to rewrite its telecommunications Act to allow greater management of municipal rights-of-way by local governments as well as greater cost recovery.

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