Canadian consumers could be given more control over how they pay for the TV they watch in a decision being released today by the country's broadcast regulator. Douny Letourneux

Canadian consumers could be given more control over how they pay for the TV they watch in a decision being released today by the country's broadcast regulator. Douny Letourneux

Regulator imposes price cap on basic cable

CRTC to require cable, satellite companies to offer basic package, with $25 cap

By Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

GATINEAU, Que. – Cable and satellite service providers will soon have to offer consumers an “entry-level” television service, at a cost of no more than $25 a month, a decision that the country’s broadcast regulator acknowledges will cost some people their jobs.

They’ll also have to give customers a choice, on top of the basic package, of either paying for additional channels individually or in smaller bundles, says the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

The Harper government welcomed the move — something it has been pushing for in the run-up to the fall federal election — but critics including Friends of Canadian Broadcasting warn it’ll hurt the economy and the country’s TV industry as a whole.

The new, trimmed-down basic packages must include local channels in each service area, as well as channels currently on the CRTC’s mandatory distribution list such as public interest, educational and legislature channels where they’re available.

U.S.-based broadcasters that are currently free over the air in most major Canadian markets near the border — so-called 4-plus-1 channels — will also be included.

It’s the first time television service pricing has been regulated in Canada since 1999 and makes it the only jurisdiction in the industrialized world to require that TV distribution companies offer a basic selection of channels.

The national broadcast regulator said it expects service providers to offer trimmed-down basic packages by March 2016.

TV viewers will then be able to supplement the so-called “skinny basic” package with either individual channels available through a pick-and-pay model, or what it calls small, “reasonably-priced” bundled channel packages, the CRTC ruled.

But service providers will have until the end of next year to offer both a la carte channels and theme packages.

Customers who are happy with their current TV offerings won’t have to switch.

“Canadians will have the choice of keeping their current television services without making any changes, if these continue to meet their needs and budgets,” the CRTC said in a statement.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said technology has changed Canada’s TV industry to the point that viewers are taking it upon themselves to choose what they want to watch, when they want to watch it.

“Viewers are in control,” Blais said.

“Today’s decision is not about making choices for Canadians,” he said.

“Rather, it’s about setting out a road map to give all Canadians the freedom to choose the television content that meets their unique needs, budgets and realities.”

Still, Blais acknowledged that the changes will likely cost some people their jobs as already struggling TV channels lose revenues and go off the air.

That goes against government pledges that any plan to offer “pick-and-pay” TV services should not affect jobs, said Ian Morrison, a spokesman for the group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

“This is reckless,” said Morrison.

“We don’t think (the CRTC) passed the test that the government gave them about protecting Canadian jobs.”

Heritage Minister Shelly Glover didn’t acknowledge the potential for job losses in a statement reacting to the decision.

Instead, she called on service providers to move to a pick-and-pay system sooner than the Dec. 2016 deadline imposed by the regulator.

“While we understand that the CRTC feels the industry needs time to adjust to the new rules, we call on all industry players to deliver the choice to Canadians that they deserve in a timely manner,” said Glover.

Under the new system, service providers will not have to offer free audio services, such as local radio stations, although they can include them if they want.

The $25-a-month price won’t include the cost of renting or buying a cable or satellite set-top box. Nor will it include taxes. But service providers could offer an even lower price.

Rogers Inc. flirted with entry-level pricing when it test-marketed a digital basic package in the London, Ont., area from Nov. 2011 until Feb. 2012, at a cost of $19.99 a month.

Rogers reacted positively to the CRTC decision Thursday, saying it was pleased the regulator agreed to include American channels in the basic service mix.

The move “is a real win for Canadians,” added Ann Mainville-Neeson, the vice-president of broadcasting policy and regulatory affairs at Telus.

“The decision explicitly prohibits anti-consumer contract terms which have historically limited our ability to enhance consumer choice and flexibility,” she said.

Bell Media said it would not comment on the decision.

While relief may be in sight for Canadians fed up with paying for TV programming they never watch, the new rules mean subscribers will still have to pay for some channels they don’t necessarily want, resulting in a basic package that will cost more than what many viewers were hoping for, said advocacy group OpenMedia.

To make sure the big networks don’t shut out independent broadcasters from basic services, the CRTC also introduced a code of conduct for the industry Thursday.

Just Posted

North Island MLA Michele Babchuk. Photo contributed
COMMENTARY: MLA Michele Babchuk talks the future of forestry

‘These forests are important to every single one of us, myself included’

Dr. Prean Armogam hands over a cheque for $10,000 to Hardy Bay Senior Citizens Society president Rosaline Glynn. The money will be going towards a new roof for the Port Hardy seniors centre. This is the second donation Dr. Armogam has made to the society, giving them $5,000 a little over a year ago. (Tyson Whitney - North Island Gazette)
Doctor donates $10k to Hardy Bay Senior Citizens Society for new roof

This was the second donation Armogam has given to the society

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of May 30-June 5. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
COVID-19 cases drop again almost everywhere on Vancouver Island

Nanaimo had four new cases last week, down from 22 the week before

Blueprints for the seniors housing project in Port Hardy. (North Island Seniors Housing Foundation photo)
BC Housing declines North Island Seniors Housing Foundation’s proposal to build units

BC Housing will be explaining why exactly the project was declined at a June 18 meeting

An aerial view of the marine oil-spill near Bligh Island in Nootka sound that the Canadian Coast Guard posted in a live social media feed in December. ( Canadian Coast Guard/Facebook)
Oil from vessel that sank in 1968 off Vancouver Island to be removed

DFO hires Florida firm to carefully remove oil from MV Schiedyk in Nootka Sound starting in mid-June

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

Most Read