The CRTC is making cable providers publicly explain their $25 basic TV packages.

The broadcast regulator and a consumer group have received hundreds of complaints about the CRTC-mandated TV plans.  

Now the commission has announced it will hold public hearings starting on Sept. 7 to discuss how the controversial TV deals are panning out.

So far, Bell, Rogers, Shaw, and Vidéotron all must testify at the hearings.

"The CRTC wants to ensure that they are offering the new options to Canadians in a manner that is consistent with its regulations and the spirit of its policy," said the commission in a statement.

Interested consumer groups who qualify will have a chance to testify as well.

The CRTC also announced that the public can now begin submitting their own comments about the basic packages.

As part of the licence renewal process, the CRTC asked the television providers detailed questions about their basic plans and then published the answers online.

Canadians can now peruse the answers and comment on them electronically or by mail by June 23. 

However, CBC News discovered the responses by the cable companies were not easy to dig up on the CRTC's website.

Searching for answers

The cable companies' answers are tucked away at the bottom of a lengthy CRTC document.

After CBC News highlighted the problem, the CRTC responded that it was working on a solution.

At 8 p.m. ET tonight, a new direct link to the TV providers' answers will be posted on a CRTC news release to the media. 

"Thank you for bringing it up, the fact it was kind of hard to find," said spokeswoman Patricia Valladeo. She added that the commission is making every effort to involve the public in CRTC matters.

"We are trying to make that outreach, to reach Canadians," she said.

Valladeo also pointed out that people don't necessarily have to comment on the answers provided by the cable companies. Instead, they can express their own thoughts about the $25 basic TV packages.

TV companies answer

The CRTC introduced regulations last year that required service providers to offer an affordable "skinny" basic TV package for $25 or less by March 1. They also had to let customers top up the plan with individual pick-and-pay or small channel bundles.

CBC News combed through the current answers provided online by major providers Bell, Rogers, and Shaw about their new basic TV plans.

None publicly provided the number of customers who signed up, saying it was sensitive competitive information.

Rogers also didn't make public the number of complaints it had received, citing the same reason.

Shaw said it had received a total of 49 complaints for its cable and satellite basic TV plans. Complaints included those made to the CRTC and those that focused on pick-and-pay services.

Bell said it received only seven complaints about its basic TV package.

Complainants cite extra fees 

The Consumers' Association of Canada told CBC News it has received hundreds of complaints about the new TV plans. The association says a major customer beef is that when extra fees are added, the deals can become too pricey.

For example, customers purchasing Bell's basic Fibe Starter pack also have to shell out for the telecom's internet service plus PVR rental.

According to Bell's response to CRTC questions on pricing, its basic $24.95 Starter pack can actually total around $100 a month. That cost includes $60 a month for internet in Ontario and doesn't factor in the $199.95 installation fee.

In its answers to the CRTC, the telecom provided a detailed explanation why its basic customers must also purchase Bell internet. The company noted that Fibe TV requires an internet connection and that the two Bell services are always sold together.

That's because, explained the company, it's cost-efficient and without Bell internet "key features of our [TV] service would not work."

Bell also noted that its basic Starter pack is not eligible for any discounts or promotions, explaining that "these are marketing decisions."

Rogers also noted that its new $24.99 basic Starter pack could not be bundled at a discount with other services.

Shaw did not appear to note in its response to the CRTC the lack of discounts offered with its $25 basic Limited TV plan.

A spokesperson explained to us that some Limited customers do get a discount — at this moment, new customers buying $40 or more worth of extra add-ons with the basic TV deal.