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Insight's Willner calls for federal tax to subsidize stations

A cable television executive suggested last week that local television stations should be subsidized by America's taxpayers in lieu of the current system that allows stations to seek cash for carriage of their programs by cable operators.

Michael Willner, president and CEO of Insight Communications, made the suggestion to an industry panel in Washington at Forum 2007, a meeting of the Cable Television Public Affairs Association (CTPAA).

According to a published account of the panel, Willner said a tax subsidy for local stations would ensure a second revenue stream for broadcasters while relieving cable operators from having to pay for programming that is offered to the public free-of-charge.

"Set up a way of collecting a tax. If you want people to pay for broadcasting, collect it from everybody evenly. They do it in Britain," Willner said.

Willner suggested that a tax on television would fund a federal royalty pool, similar to the one used to compensate sports leagues and Hollywood studios. "This would be in lieu of retransmission consent, and all broadcasters would share in the pool," he said. "We'll collect it. We don't care — but as long as everybody gets [taxed] equally."

Wilner noted that under current regulations, each cable subscriber is required to pay for a program package that includes local TV signals. That arrangement is "broken," he said because it's "charging certain parts of the population to watch over-the-air television while it doesn't charge other parts of the population."