Cable and satellite companies "have had a free ride for a long time," says the president and CEO of CTVglobemedia, and should be required to pay for local television signals that they currently transmit for free.

The CRTC has opened two weeks of hearings into so-called "fee-for-carriage", which calls for cable and satellite companies to pay for conventional, over-the-air signals.

The cable and satellite companies have balked at the suggestion and insist they will pass on any new fees to their customers, adding another $2 to $10 a month to bills.

CTVGlobemedia President and CEO Ivan Fecan opened Monday's hearing by saying broadcasters must be paid for their products, and threatened to "walk away" if a deal is not reached.

"Cable companies have had a free ride for a long time," Fecan told the CRTC in Gatineau, Que.

"In effect, broadcasters invested in them by allowing them to carry our signals for free, and allowing them to damage our property rights by importing foreign programs to which we own exclusive rights. In this way, we subsidize the construction of their nationwide delivery systems that have enabled digital services, telephony and Internet businesses. They have grown rich off the 40-year investment we've made in them. Now it's time for us to benefit from our investment. It's fair and it's right."

Fecan said CTV and other networks could go so far as pulling their signals, taking viewers' favourite shows with them.

CTV executives say the cable and satellite providers would then be forced to black out shows when they appear on American stations if Canadian networks have the rights to them.

Fecan suggested that the CRTC compel carriers to offer subscriptions to a basic television package, for a fee the CRTC could set.

In his opening statement to the hearing early Monday afternoon, Nadir Mohamed, president and chief operating officer of Rogers' Communications Division, said the company supports overhauling the broadcasters' business model to improve their economic fortunes, not a fee-for-carriage system.

"Rogers has been a strong supporter of the Canadian broadcasting system since our inception," Mohamed told the hearing.

"We are willing to continue to work with the commission, and all of the stakeholders in the system, to help ensure its future. We are prepared to help broadcasters reinvigorate their business models for the digital and Internet age. We are not prepared, however, to support a fundamentally flawed compensation proposal."

Mohamed said Rogers could help broadcasters exploit "digital and mobile audiences" to increase their revenues. But he also reiterated the cable and satellite companies' earlier statements that broadcasters' fortunes will improve as Canada emerges from the current economic downturn.

Otherwise, fee-for-carriage is a "compensation proposal that will result in significant and immediate transfer of money from Canadians to broadcasters with no corresponding benefits," Mohamed said.

The fee-for-carriage debate has heated up in the last several months, as both broadcasters and the cable and satellite providers have launched public relations campaigns to mobilize public support.

During the morning session, CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein warned both sides against engaging in a long-term fight.

"I am very frustrated by this very confrontational view," he said.

"You need each other and yet we have seen, for the last five months, a public battle never seen before and at the end of the day I can see nothing else than the consumer has to pay more."

During both morning and afternoon sessions, Von Finckenstein pleaded with both sides to get together and work out a deal.

"Is it possible for to work this out and come back to us? I can't reiterate enough I would like this to be a win-win solution for you, the (cable and satellite firms) and customers," he said.

Representatives from ACTRA, the actors' union, also support fee-for-carriage, but say the money the broadcasters collect should be invested in Canadian programming.

Union head Ferne Downey said broadcasters should not be allowed to use all of the revenue generated to pay for the rights to American shows.

The union is calling on the CRTC to require broadcasters to invest at least six per cent of gross revenues on Canadian programs.

With files from The Canadian Press