Business

CRTC tells dissatisfied TV customers to 'demand better' and shop around

The CRTC wants Canadians to know that if they don’t like their current TV plan, they should shop around. The commission is also offering shopping tips online. Critics say the commission needs to do more to help customers snag a fair TV deal.

CRTC posts shopping tips online on how to haggle for a better TV deal; consumer advocates say it's not enough

Larry McLean in Toronto says he doesn't see much point in shopping around for TV services because the providers are 'all the same.' (Larry McLean)

The CRTC wants Canadians to know that they "have choices" when it comes to their TV services. And if they don't like their current TV plan, they should "demand better" and shop around.

To assist consumers, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has posted a series of shopping tips on its website. Advice includes speaking "with confidence, but stay polite," when haggling by phone with your cable company.

But critics argue wheeling and dealing can only help so much, and what TV customers really need is to be ensured they're being offered a fair deal.

"Ultimately, you may need safeguards, you may need consumer protection rules," says Alysia Lau, legal counsel with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) in Ottawa.

The CRTC's posted tips follow numerous complaints by Canadians that they aren't happy with the new $25 basic TV deals. The commission had mandated that TV providers offer them so customers can enjoy more choice at an affordable price.

The broadcast regulator's posted advice includes a printable checklist that directs savvy shoppers to write down their TV needs, favourite channels and viewing options in their area.

There's also a five-step guide for haggling by phone for a better deal with your TV provider.

CRTC shopping tips include speaking with confidence but remaining polite when negotiating a better deal with your TV provider. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)

Advice includes "showing the customer service rep that you did your homework" and demanding better "considering your priorities." The guide adds, "Reminding [your provider] of your loyalty can help."

And if you still don't get what you want? "Tell them you're ready to switch to another provider," says the guide. However, it also warns that if you do that, "be ready to make the move!"

'I hate calling the cable company'

Dissatisfied cable customer Ken Town doesn't believe such tips would get him anywhere.

"It's pointless, I hate calling the cable company," says the Oakville, Ont., resident. He claims there's not much difference between the TV providers, so haggling won't help much.

"It's good advice," says Town about the CRTC tips. "But it's not going to change that [the cable companies] don't offer what you'd want. You're going to be back to a $75 cable bill before you even start."

Town is a Cogeco cable customer and pays about $100 a month for his TV service. When $25 basic TV and individual pick and pay channels launched this year, he scoped out his options, hoping for a cheaper deal.

Town discovered if he added to the basic plan the networks he truly wanted, like AMC and sports, he'd end up paying more than he's paying now.

"I took away from it that the only people that [basic TV] would be useful for is somebody who ... just wants to watch CBC News," he says.

'They're all the same'

On Dec. 1, the CRTC rolled out phase two of its unbundling of television offerings. That was the deadline for TV providers to offer customers both theme packs and individual pick and pay channels on top of their TV plans, including the basic package.

Many customers have since complained that the individual channels are priced too high. Some providers are charging around $7 for popular news and entertainment channels, and much more for sports networks.

"They want a lot of money for these channels," says Toronto Bell customer Larry McLean. He also checked out the basic TV offerings and wasn't impressed.

Like Town, McLean doesn't believe shopping around will help him shave much off his $128 monthly TV bill because there isn't much competition. "It's like the big banks," he says. "They're all the same."

CBC News asked the CRTC for comment about complaints regarding pick and pay TV prices. The commission responded that it doesn't regulate rates — even though it mandated a $25 basic TV package.

The CRTC also recommended that dissatisfied Canadians shop around "to find the best deal" and check out its online tips.

Tips are not enough

Offering shopping tips and tools is helpful, says PIAC's Lau, but she'd also like to see the CRTC put some consumer protections in place. "What the customer wants is to be able to be treated fairly by their service provider."

PIAC believes that some cable companies are trying to make the pared-down basic deals unattractive by doing things like removing discounts and deals that other customers typically get.

PIAC argues the CRTC should put consumer protections in place to ensure Canadians get a fair TV deal. (Brian Putman)

Following a hearing on the basic TV offerings, the CRTC has come up with a number of "best practices" for how cable companies "should" behave. They include not excluding basic customers from discounts and keeping their TV offers "simple and transparent" for customers.

The commission is also renewing most TV providers' broadcast licences for only one short year rather than the typical seven-year term, while it keeps watch on them.

However, the "best practices" are not rules, but rather guidelines. The CRTC also lists some of them in its tips guide, so customers can be their own watchdog when scoping out TV providers.

Consumers are advised to ask themselves questions such as, does your provider "offer you discounts and services" regardless of your TV package and "keep packaging offerings simple?"

That's not good enough for Lau, who believes it puts too much responsibility on consumers.

Instead, she'd like to see some firm rules for the basic TV deals "as opposed to best practices which kind of leave consumers to do the best they can and fend for themselves."

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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