Consumer groups demand CRTC address complaints over 'so lame' $25 basic TV packages

Consumer advocacy groups are demanding Ottawa take action now to address the flood of complaints pouring in about the new mandated $25 basic TV packages. They want stricter rules that will lead to better TV deals for Canadians.

Advocates call for stricter rules that will lead to better TV deals for Canadians

The CRTC says it will not take immediate action to address the hundreds of complaints pouring in about its new mandated basic TV packages. (CBC)

Consumer advocacy groups are demanding immediate action by the CRTC to address the flood of complaints pouring in about the new $25 basic TV packages.

The Consumers' Association of Canada says it has asked the federal broadcast regulator to hold a hearing to examine the problem and come up with a better deal for Canadians.

But there will be no quick action according to the CRTC, which says it prefers to wait and see how its mandated TV packages pan out over time.

The commission's stance has further infuriated consumer groups. "We've waited and we've seen. And what we see is so lame," says Josh Tabish with Open Media, an advocacy group for telecom consumers.

Great expectations

Both the CRTC and the Consumers' Association have been inundated with hundreds of complaints from disgruntled Canadians about the new TV packages.

Association president Bruce Cran says many of the gripes his group has received involve the high price of the plans once extra fees are included.

"People don't like what they're seeing there as far as value is concerned," he says.

People had high hopes for the new CRTC rules that proposed to "maximize choice and affordability for Canadian TV viewers."

The commission had mandated that by March 1 service providers must offer a basic TV package for $25 or less. They also had to let customers top up the plan with individual pick-and-pay or small channel bundles.

But many TV customers are finding the costs for the new deals can skyrocket. The $25 packages often exclude routine discounts, but include extra fees for necessities such as a digital TV box rental.

And some of the added individual or bundled channels come at a high price.

Need to fix a 'bad mistake'

Cran believes many of the TV providers are purposely making the basic packages unattractive, because they don't want customers paring down their TV plans.

So the Consumers' Association of Canada has asked the CRTC to hold a hearing on the topic, just like it did when laying the groundwork for the $25 basic packages.

Cran wants the commission to better clarify the new rules so that TV providers are forced to offer Canadians more attractive deals.

"We believe in accountability," he says. "The CRTC has made a bad mistake here."

Tabish with Open Media agrees. He says the cable companies have taken advantage of the unclear CRTC regulations to keep gouging Canadians.

"The telecom providers used every trick in the book to make [the new deals] as unpalatable as possible," he says.

He points in particular to Bell Canada, which is demanding that customers purchasing the Fibe TV $25 Starter pack also get Bell internet service plus rent a PVR. An online customer service rep with the company said the actual cost for the basic package totals $119.90 a month.

"This is so against the spirit of the rules," says Tabish. "The commission should have done more to make sure price was really nailed down."

Bell has told CBC News it complies with CRTC regulations.

Wait and see approach

Despite the cries for action, the CRTC has no plans to do anything soon. Cran says the commission has told him it wants to monitor the situation for about six months.

CRTC spokeswoman Patricia Valladao told CBC News, "We have to give it time."

She also isn't overly concerned about the mounting complaints pouring in to the CRTC — 587 at last count since March 1. She points out that the commission gets just as many complaints about unwanted telemarketing calls.

"It's just day-to-day business," she says.

Valladao adds that consumers must also understand that the new packages won't work out for everyone.

"What you think is a value for you might be different than what's a value for your neighbour," she says.

Indeed, CBC News did hear from a few contented TV customers on Thursday during an online forum on the issue. They said they signed up for the basic $25 package and are saving money.

But we've also heard many complaints from people who hoped to switch but find the new deals are less attractive than their current TV plans.

For them, there appears to be few options.

The federal government says it won't get involved. "It is up to the CRTC to analyze the situation and take the appropriate action, if required," said Heritage Canada spokesman Tim Warmington in an email.

So, for now, dissatisfied customers either have to lower their expectations or try to negotiate a better TV deal on their own.

Commission spokeswoman Valladao recommends this. "People have to negotiate and shop around," she says.

But if that's the case, then one might ask, what was the point of the new CRTC regulations in the first place?

About the Author

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

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