Bell is asking the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to revoke TVA Sports' broadcasting licence in order to punish its owner, Quebecor, after it cut off the channel's signal for Bell subscribers at the start of the NHL playoffs last week.
The CRTC should at the very least suspend the channel's licence until June 30, after the Stanley Cup final, pleaded Robert Malcolmson, Bell's senior vice-president of regulatory affairs and government relations.
Malcolmson presented Bell's case at a CRTC hearing in Gatineau, Que., Wednesday.
"Withdrawing the signal was an affront to viewers, to the commission and the rest of the participants in the broadcasting system who play by the rules. It was also illegal," he said.
Canada's telecommunications regulator held the hearing to address the dispute between the two media giants.
In his opening comments, CRTC chairman Ian Scott reiterated its role in "protecting Canadians" who are "victims of this dispute."
"The commission has put in place a rule to ensure that Canadians do not lose access to the services they pay for in the event of a dispute between parties. This is known as the standstill rule," said Scott.
Malcolmson argued for the commission to issue a mandatory order Wednesday to maintain the signal, since the injunction requiring Quebecor to restore service expires on April 23.
"Without an enforceable commission order, we are concerned that Quebecor will again pull its signal."
Quebecor head challenges CRTC's power
Quebecor chief executive Pierre Karl Péladeau called into question the commission's power to force the service to continue during the dispute, especially when one side doesn't want to maintain a business relationship with the other.
Quebecor "had no more alternatives," he said, in justifying the media giant's decision to cut the TVA Sports signal to Bell subscribers.
The standoff between Quebecor and Bell was provoked by a dispute over the royalties to be paid to the specialty channels. According to Péladeau, Vidéotron, which is owned by Quebecor, pays way too much for specialty channels owned by Bell, including RDS, TVA Sports' chief rival.
The end of TVA Sports?
For Péladeau, the status quo is not an option because it favours "one dominant player, Bell," which benefits from unfair advantages going back to when the CRTC allowed it to buy Astral Media in 2013.
Péladeau asked the CRTC to allow Quebecor to remove its signal while negotiations on the royalties for specialty channels are underway.
"In order to ensure the survival of our television, we must be equitably compensated."
In response to a CRTC lawyer who pointed out the risks of ignoring commission orders, Péladeau said he is ready to consider pulling the plug on the sports channel.
"A suspension may pave the way to the death of TVA Sports," he said.
Later, at a news conference, he continued in the same vein.
"After tens and tens of millions of dollars in operating losses ... if the board is not able to provide rates that are reasonable ... the probabilities of closing TVA Sports are very high."