The CRTC says Bell Canada is defying it by letting customers choose only one bundled package of 10 channels on top of their TV plan. The broadcast regulator has ordered Bell to change its policy so customers can get all the added channel packages they want.
"Bell has failed to make all discretionary services available to its subscribers in small packages as required under the regulations," wrote CRTC secretary general Danielle May-Cuconato in a letter to Bell.
In December, the CRTC required that all TV providers must let subscribers top up their TV plans with extra specialty channels. The channels had to be offered both individually and in small bundled packages of up to 10 channels.
According to the CRTC's letter, the commission received a complaint from an Ontario Bell customer in December. The customer questioned if Bell's practice of limiting subscribers to only one package of 10 channels for $20 a month defies CRTC regulations.
The telecom giant claimed it complies with the rules, because customers can still top up their one TV bundle with all the individual pick and pay channels they want.
But buying Bell channels individually is much more pricey. Most cost $4 or $7 each, adding up to a minimum of $40 for a total of 10 — double the price of a 10-channel bundle.
The CRTC wasn't swayed by Bell's argument and has given the TV provider until July 1 to stop limiting customers' channel bundles.
Stop limiting choice
In the letter, the CRTC reminded Bell that pick and pay channel deals are part of the commission's mission to let TV customers have more choice.
"The commission made it very clear that it intends to enforce not just the pick and pay regulations but also the spirit of the choice policy," said Alysia Lau, counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).
"This letter is positive, I think for consumers," she added.
Bell wouldn't comment on the CRTC's letter, telling CBC News it's still reviewing the decision.
This isn't the first time the company has come under fire for how it has dealt with the commission's push to offer more flexible TV packages.
As part of its mission, the CRTC also mandated last year that providers offer a $25 skinny basic TV plan.
Shortly before the plans rolled out, CBC News uncovered an Atlantic Canada Bell training document that instructed workers to downplay its $25 basic deal, called the Starter package.
"Do not promote the Starter TV package. There will be no advertising, and this package should only be discussed if the customer initiates the conversation," stated the document.
Many industry insiders had speculated that the major cable companies didn't want to offer the basic TV plans because they would be less profitable.
When the CRTC confronted Bell about the issue at a hearing last year, the company said the document didn't reflect Bell's policies. The telecom also claimed that the manual was pulled before it was ever used.
"There was what I would call an unfortunate incident in the early stages of training," said Robert Malcolmson, Bell's senior vice president of regulatory affairs.
Keeping an eye on Bell
Bell also fell under scrutiny for demanding that its Fibe — or fibre optic — basic TV customers in Ontario and Quebec also sign up for its internet service.
Earlier this year, Bell reversed that policy, claiming the decision was part of an "ongoing process" to streamline its services.
PIAC says it's keeping an eye on the company for two reasons. First, it takes issue with the fact that Bell is still not allowing basic TV customers to get multiple services in a discounted bundle.
The telecom says because the $25 basic plan is already a discounted offering, further discounts don't apply.
Second, PIAC is looking into the way that Bell is now allowing customers to stream its channels on wireless devices via an app. The concern for PIAC is that the service, called Alt TV is currently only available to Fibe internet customers with unlimited usage plans.
"We haven't come to a conclusion yet, but we're definitely exploring the way that it affects consumers and could impact on their choice," said Lau.