Business

New CRTC rules will simplify cable and satellite TV billing

Regulator says companies must change the way they interact with their customers in bills

TV watching stock

New rules set to be implemented next September promise to clear up your TV bill, the CRTC says. (Diego Cervo/Shutterstock)

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Cable and satellite television providers have to change their bills to make them easier for customers to understand, Canada's broadcast regulator says.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said Thursday that new rules, which are set to be implemented, will change the way television service providers bill their customers.

A draft version of the CRTC's Television Service Provider Code of Conduct came out last March and was made official on Thursday, although it won't be enforced until September 2017.

Broadly speaking, the new rules will require that cable and satellite television companies:

  • Provide consumers with billing information they need in a format that is easy to understand, including the list of channels or bundles they subscribe to.

  • Clearly set out, in the bills, the duration of promotional offers, including the regular price after discounts expire, and lay out what obligations the customer has in terms of a minimum commitment period, before they sign up.

  • For service calls, give customers a better timeframe of when the technician might come, and include information on any potential charges that may be associated with the service call

  • Ensure prices set out in written agreements are clear, and state whether they include taxes or other charges.

  • Give 30 days' notice to consumers in the event of a change in price of channels, bundles of channels or rental equipment.

The rules also mandate specific requirements for customers with disabilities, namely that television service providers must offer them a 30-day trial period during which they can decide whether the service meets their needs.

"Canadians with disabilities will also be able to request a copy of their agreements in an alternative format, which will have to be provided at no charge upon request," the CRTC said.

The individual only has to self-identify as a person with a disability and no proof is required.

Although the rules won't be in force until September 2017 at the earliest, "there is, however, nothing preventing television service providers from adopting the code before it comes into force," the CRTC said. "They are strongly encouraged to make the necessary adjustments to their respective processes so that Canadians may benefit from the code as soon as possible."

The new rules come ahead of a sea change for the industry, as another part of the CRTC's probe into the TV industry will fundamentally change their business models.

Starting in March, the CRTC will require providers to offer a basic package of channels — known as "skinny basic" — for no more than $25 per month, and give customers the option of buying individual channels or small bundles. By December, both à la carte channels and the bundles must be offered as an option.

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