Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the committee. My name is Robert Malcolmson. I'm senior vice-president, regulatory affairs, at BCE. Thank you for your invitation to provide Bell's views on NAFTA.
Bell is Canada's largest communications company, employing over 50,000 Canadians and investing over $4 billion annually in advanced networks and media content alone. These investments allow us to provide services that form the backbone of Canada's digital and innovation economy, including the country's fastest high-speed Internet and wireless networks that are among the fastest in the world.
Our world-class telecommunications system has been built through facilities-based competition among domestic players overseen by an independent regulator, the CRTC. We urge you to keep in mind that, in renegotiating NAFTA, we should not jeopardize what's been achieved by agreeing to trade outcomes that reduce the discretion of the independent regulator or grant subsidized access to our networks to foreign players.
Instead, the focus should continue to be on facilities-based competition. Bell is equally a key supporter of Canada's cultural and democratic system, investing more than any other broadcaster in Canadian content, and operating the largest networks of both local TV and local radio stations across the country, ensuring there are reporters with boots on the ground everywhere.
Again, as you navigate the waters of a new NAFTA, it is essential that our cultural sovereignty be preserved and supported.
There is no doubt that our system is in a time of transition. As content from all over the world becomes available, audiences fragment and activity moves online. We are responding. At Bell Media, we've launched CraveTV, a made-in-Canada, over-the-top service that delivers premium TV content to anyone in Canada for just $7.99 a month. Meanwhile, Bell TV has launched Fibe Alt TV, an application-based TV service that delivers all the content consumers have come to expect from a traditional cable service without the need for a traditional receiver.
We're also investing in a new era of Canadian content with award-winning Canadian programs like Letterkenny, which was produced exclusively for CraveTV and is its most watched show, and Cardinal, which is one of the top new programs in Canada, averaging more than a million viewers each week, and is now broadcast in markets around the world.
As the Canadian broadcasting system reorients itself toward online and global markets, we urge the government not to lose sight of this framework, reflected both in the original free trade agreement and subsequently in NAFTA, that has led to our success so far.
We have three specific proposals on how to make NAFTA work better for Canadian culture in the digital economy.
The first is tax and regulatory fairness for online services and digital advertising platforms. Canadian-owned services like Crave collect and remit HST on behalf of the government, but foreign video providers like Netflix and foreign digital advertising platforms like Google and Facebook, despite competing in Canada and earning millions of dollars in revenue from Canadians every month, pay no sales tax at all. This is obviously not tax fairness. Canada must maintain the ability to address this inequity with new modernized tax laws. In negotiating NAFTA, the government should ensure its ability to apply the same regulatory rules to all online services.
The second is copyright enforcement. U.S. interests have long complained that widespread online copyright infringement here in Canada is limiting the growth of the digital economy. In fact, many of the most prominent global players in the piracy ecosystem operate out of Canada as a relative safe harbour. Canadians made 1.88 billion visits to piracy sites last year. We recommend that the government commit to stronger intellectual property enforcement by having an administrative agency dedicated to such enforcement and by prioritizing enforcement against digital pirates.
Canada should also create a criminal provision for any infringement of copyright, including facilitating and enabling piracy where it's undertaken for a commercial purpose.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, there's local television. There is no doubt that local TV continues to face a crisis in Canada. Private local TV stations produce more than 900 hours of local programming every week and remain among the most popular TV stations in the country. Yet despite the success in serving Canadians, private local TV stations have lost more than $500 million in the last two years. Despite their valuable content, local TV stations cannot charge subscription fees because of section 31 of the Copyright Act. In renegotiating NAFTA, Canada should preserve its ability to address the crisis in local TV either by removing section 31 of the Copyright Act or making a second revenue stream available to local Canadian stations.
Finally, it's also essential that Canada commit to preserving simultaneous substitution. Simultaneous substitution enables U.S. copyright holders to receive value for their copyright and it protects the integrity of the exclusive program rights that Canadian broadcasters purchase. Simultaneous substitution and other domestic measures should continue to be protected under NAFTA's existing cultural industries exemption.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide our views. We're happy to answer your questions.