GATINEAU, Que. - It took the deadpan, I-don't-suffer-fools-gladly style of broadcast regulator Konrad Von Finckenstein to pinpoint what many Canadians might be feeling about the bewildering cable-versus-TV battle.

"Why are we frightening consumers, why are we putting out big figures, rather than trying to figure out how to solve this problem? The problem is we want to keep a viable Canadian TV system," the chairman of the Canadian Radio-television Commission (CRTC) asked a row of cable and satellite executives Tuesday.

"Instead, we seem to have a debate that nobody understands, we have a huge publicity campaign that nobody understands, and we have figures and concepts swirling around that don't make sense."

For the third time, the CRTC is examining whether conventional broadcasters should be paid fees by the cable and satellite companies for the privilege of carrying their channels. The issue is dubbed value for signal, or fee for carriage.

Those broadcasters -- including CBC, Global and CTV -- say with lower ad revenues and fragmented market share, they cannot afford to keep local stations running without a new revenue stream.

Consumers have been bombarded for several months by newspaper, radio, TV and Internet ads about why such fees would either save local television by making the greedy cable companies share the wealth, or wallop them in the pocketbook with an unjust tax tacked on to their monthly bills.

Von Finckenstein dismissed the cable/satellite claim that allowing the fees could spell an extra $10 or more on a cable subscriber's bill, pressing the executives to come to the table with more realistic scenarios.

He took the example of Ottawa, with four local TV stations getting paid the theoretical amount of a quarter per subscriber by the cable and satellite companies. That would equate to a dollar per bill.

The response to the commission was that a dollar would already be too much.

"We can sit here and debate whether it's five or it's 10 or it's a dollar, but at the end of the day the consumer's not going to like it," said Mirko Bibic, senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs at Bell Canada.

The government had come up with a new Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF) earlier this year to help the broadcasters, funded by the cable and satellite companies. The corporations promptly passed the fee directly on to consumers, who complained in the tens of thousands.

Bibic disputed whether the broadcasters even need help, saying they would see their profits go back up as advertisers come back.

"They're still profitable, they will return as the economy recovers," said Bibic.

The CRTC will report back to Heritage Minister James Moore on its findings from the hearings before the end of the year.

Von Finckenstein summed up his feelings about the dispute: "This is not an epic battle, this is not something that will turn the world upside down."