Failures

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
a la carte, canada, crtc, tv



Canada's Attempt To Force Cheaper, More Flexible Cable Packages Is A Bit Of A Joke

from the the-illusion-of-choice dept

Canada's attempt to force Canadian cable providers to deliver cheaper, more flexible cable TV bundles appears to be a comedy of errors. Last year, driven by user complaints, the CRTC passed rules requiring Canadian cable companies to provide a $25 so-called "skinny bundle" of discounted TV channels starting March 1 of this year, and the option to buy channels individually (a la carte) starting December 1 (aka this week). Companies responded by first pouting, then by offering new "discounted" TV bundles so layered with hidden fees, surcharges, and caveats as to be effectively useless.

This week's deadline to offer a la carte TV channels doesn't appear to be going much better. Companies like Rogers, Shaw, and Bell are now allowing users the option to buy TV channels individually -- but they've again priced each channel high enough to make the option completely pointless. Under this new pricing paradigm, buying individual channels can cost you anything from $6 to $20 per channel. After having a little time to crunch the numbers, consumers were quick to complain to the BBC about the absurdity of the entire effort:
"Turns out, to add CNN and CP24 individually, Spitz would pay $14 a month instead of $15. That's only a $1 savings, and her mother would lose a handful of extra channels included in the theme packs.

"That's ludicrous; that's ridiculous," said Spitz.

But some industry experts are not surprised by the pick and pay prices. That's because, they say, TV providers are for-profit companies, and their main objective is to protect the bottom line.

"What did you really expect?" says telecom expert Gerry Wall.
Incumbent Canadian TV providers, as you also might expect, insist that offering "discounted" service that really doesn't provide any discount is the height of value, and that the way they've always done things (read: offering you a bloated, expensive bundle of channels you don't actually watch) is the best way to continue to do things:
"Rogers told CBC News that adding individual channels to a plan won't benefit everyone and that most customers instead opt for its bigger TV packages "which offer great value." It said the cable company's standalone channel pricing is "reasonable and competitive."
Part of the problem is that the CRTC doesn't really have the authority or willingness to fully regulate rates, so it's demanding less expensive options for consumers -- but isn't really willing (or in some instances able) to hold companies accountable when they tap dance around the requirements. In a March interview with The Globe and Mail, CRTC boss Jean-Pierre Blais tried to downplay public criticism of the effort (and the CRTC's unwillingness to follow through) by claiming the goal was never to lower soaring cable bills:
"People may have thought, mistakenly, that the CRTC was going to reduce everybody’s cable bills – that’s not what we promised. We said we’re going to give you more choice,” Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, said in an interview."
But what people actually got was the illusion of more choice under what appears to just be regulation theater. Given the fact that streaming video competition (and by proxy lower prices and more choices) will be arriving whether these cable companies like it or not, the CRTC's effort could just be a giant waste of time. A better tack for regulators would be to focus not on trying to drag legacy TV kicking and screaming into the modern era, but to focus on improving broadband competition and obstacles (usage caps) to the rise of cheaper, better, and more flexible streaming TV alternatives.

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  • icon
    Retsibsi (profile), 2 Dec 2016 @ 2:46pm

    Was puzzled why Canadian viewers would complain the BBC. Turns out it's the CBC

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2016 @ 3:04pm

    Want to stop insane telecoms behaving badly?

    The solution, my dear, is quite simple.

    Don't buy -anything- from them. They go broke. Problem solved.
    Doesn't take new laws legislators are unwilling to pass.
    Doesn't have problems with lobbyists bribing officials.
    No worries about idiot "oversight" boards with industry insiders making sure their corporate masters get their three pounds of flesh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crade (profile), 2 Dec 2016 @ 3:22pm

      Re: Want to stop insane telecoms behaving badly?

      Yes exactly.
      Except for the lobbyists bribing part.. Unfortunately that still happens because they don't actually need us to buy from them, they bribe officials to get their money in other ways like levies and such, and then they also run essential services like phone and internet that people can't just do without.. So they just raise the prices (collectively of course, lets not be silly here) on those to compensate.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonmylous, 2 Dec 2016 @ 4:52pm

        Re: Re: Want to stop insane telecoms behaving badly?

        No he has a good point. If enough people cancel cable, downgrade their internet package or even pick another provider entirely even if it is shitty DSL, it will have an effect.

        At first the cable companies panic, start offering huge discount packages (that only last 6-12 months at best) to try and get people back, they panic and start offering discounts to those who try to leave as well. But if we can stick to our guns, a lot of niche channels start to get cancelled entirely. And that is a good thing really, there are far too many channels that really should be on Youtube or something rather than crammed into a cable package as a full channel.

        I do wonder if the cable companies are ever going to realize they are nothing but a platform, paying content providers for the privilege of using them. And they always have been. They just seem to have forgotten it and we're the idiots for not reminding them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2016 @ 12:16pm

          Re: Re: Re: Want to stop insane telecoms behaving badly?

          pick another provider entirely even if it is shitty DSL

          That's a good idea but Bell's still getting money for "shitty DSL". The third parties providing it are almost all wholesalers using Bell's network. The few that aren't rent space for DSLAMs from Bell, but that only helps if the DSLAM has a free slot and you're within 1-2 km of the central office (otherwise they'll put you on a Bell RDSLAM anyway, which means Bell gets more money and can apply usage-based billing when the CRTC allows; but at least non-shitty DSL becomes an option).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2016 @ 2:45pm

          Re: Re: Re: Want to stop insane telecoms behaving badly?

          "I do wonder if the cable companies are ever going to realize they are nothing but a platform, paying content providers for the privilege of using them. And they always have been. They just seem to have forgotten it and we're the idiots for not reminding them."

          Not until they are labelled what they are, a UTILITY!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2016 @ 12:05pm

        Re: Re: Want to stop insane telecoms behaving badly?

        they also run essential services like phone and internet that people can't just do without.. So they just raise the prices

        The problem is that they own the infrastructure. The wholesale rates are regulated and can't be arbitrarily raised, but the companies do push for anti-consumer policies that the CRTC sometimes approves. And they fuck with the wholesalers using every loophole in the rules, like throttling certain traffic because there was no explicit rule against it (and because the wholesalers are stupidly not encrypting their traffic to protect it from the incumbents).

        What ever happened to Teksavvy's fibre experiments? They apparently wired up some town years ago, but I haven't heard much about it and lately they've been trying to get access to Bell's fibre. I'd much prefer to cut out Bell and Rogers entirely, and if it's with FTTH that's a bonus.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2016 @ 4:48pm

      Re: Want to stop insane telecoms behaving badly?

      Sounds great. Unfortunately, these telecoms are the sole providers of cable television, landline and cellular telephony and internet service in Canada. If you don't want to buy from Rogers/Shaw/Bell/Telus in much of the country, you really don't have any other option. They have other "brands" they sell things under, but it's all still the same companies calling the shots.

      There are exceptions in some places. But most people would be going without Internet and cellular service, both of which are extremely important in Canadian society today.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2016 @ 11:55am

        Re: Re: Want to stop insane telecoms behaving badly?

        Unfortunately, these telecoms are the sole providers of cable television, landline and cellular telephony and internet service in Canada. If you don't want to buy from Rogers/Shaw/Bell/Telus in much of the country, you really don't have any other option.

        Do you have evidence of this for landlines and internet service? At least in Ontario, there are several third parties like TekSavvy providing landline phone and DSL/cable internet, throughout the whole province I thought. (Over Bell/Rogers infrastructure, so those companies aren't going to go broke. But those wholesale rates are regulated and end users don't have to deal with the incumbents.)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 2 Dec 2016 @ 3:46pm

    It was clear when they announced they were doing this that this would be the result, and the CRTC obviously knew it as well. I really don't see what the point is at all. There must be something else to this story. Why would CRTC pretend to crack down on cable companies anti-consumerism? That's what I want to know. They can't have expected anything different than what happened.. So why.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2016 @ 7:52pm

      Re:

      Their political masters wanted to look like they are/were doing something for the consumers/voters which costs the taxpayer/voter very little and not surprisingly does very little in the outcome as well.

      What's called a win(government), win(business), lose(consumer). Standard fare these days & in days gone by.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2016 @ 7:54pm

      Re:

      Their political masters wanted to look like they are/were doing something for the consumers/voters which costs the taxpayer/voter very little and not surprisingly does very little in the outcome as well.

      What's called a win(government), win(business), lose(consumer). Standard fare these days & in days gone by.

      If multiple replies then it is due to a submit issue, sorry, & please delete extras.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    USE DSL, 3 Dec 2016 @ 11:28am

    go with teksavvy

    teksavvy.com at least they have and continue to fight for user rights..they also have unlimited packages at some of the best rates....and even if they are a lil higher i'd rather give to a company willing to uphold user rights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 3 Dec 2016 @ 3:35pm

    i got rid of cable 6 years ago, and I haven't really noticed a differance in lack of content.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 3 Dec 2016 @ 10:41pm

    You missed the CRTC's little "gotcha", Karl.

    In a completely unrelated ruling, the CRTC granted one-year
    licenses to all those cable companies this time, instead of
    the usual, expected seven year terms.

    They never really said why they did that, at the same time… ‌ ‌ ;]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    trollificus (profile), 3 Dec 2016 @ 11:22pm

    There should have been a lesson learned...

    ...long about the 350 thousandth time that depending on government to regulate those greedy corporatists backfired. The only thing that drives down prices and improves service and product offerings is competition. i.e.: some OTHER greedy corporatists jumping in and saying "You're screwing over your own customers (because you can), but if we don't, they'll soon enough be OUR customers."

    And, yes, of course they eventually change, the disruptive and innovative people behind the challenge to entrenched players cash out and the new players themselves then go to gov't for preferential treatment and suppression of competitors...but the thing is, the initial innovation and disruption is *never* a product of government intervention. Sometimes (rarely) government inattention or incompetence *allows* said competition to occur, but it isn't something to expect. So the wistful tone of the article ("Gosh, if only the CRTC would make them give us what we want at the price we want!") is kind of mystifying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Isocrates (profile), 6 Dec 2016 @ 12:39pm

    Scared companies

    It may end up being essentially useless, but the cable companies are scared in the short term.

    My company just rolled out a new price on 150 Mbps internet, and offered existing clients 150 mbps for the same price we were paying for 30 mbps if we signed on to stay for two years.

    That being said, whether this changes anything in the long run who know, but in the short term I don't mind getting a speed upgrade and locked in price (from a company that loves increasing the rate ever 8 months).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    mb (profile), 7 Dec 2016 @ 11:24am

    The Real Solution

    The real solution to this is mandatory licensing of content.

    This solution was implemented decades ago for radio and has created a reasonable balance between content producers and consumers. It encourages innovation by allowing anyone (with a license) to broadcast any music, and pay the regulated fees.

    Mandatory licensing would Kill cable TV dead, as literally hundreds (thousands?)of distributors would have the option to deliver content in a format preferred by any given audience, and restore a fair balance between the right of Intelectual property holders to earn a profit from their work, and the right of the public to use that property as they see fit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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