CRTC flooded with complaints about new $25 skinny basic TV package
The commission has already received nearly 600 complaints about the mandated TV deals
Hundreds of consumer complaints are pouring in about the new $25 skinny basic TV packages now on the market.
As well, industry insiders tell CBC News that many cable customers are turning up their noses at the latest TV deal.
"Not really a storm of people flocking to the new packages," a Rogers employee said.
So perhaps it comes as no surprise that Canada's broadcast regulator — which mandated the skinny packages — has already received 587 complaints about them from Canadians.
The complaints began streaming in on March 1 — the deadline for cable companies to unveil their new offerings.
Complaints range from overly high costs once extra fees are factored in, to "lack of choice," says Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission spokeswoman, Patricia Valladao.
The $25 plan only has to include mandatory Canadian channels. TV providers can add a handful of U.S. stations but not everyone is offering them. Customers can pay extra to add more channels to the package.
When asked whether nearly 600 complaints is concerning, Valladao responded that big changes always require an adjustment period.
She added that the new deals aren't going to appeal to everyone, and that customers can always stick with their current packages. "It's not like they're under the gun to change," the CRTC spokeswoman said.
The Consumers' Association of Canada has also been inundated with complaints about the skinny packages — more than 300 at last count.
President Bruce Cran is less sanguine about the flood of unhappy comments.
"We weren't expecting this," he said. "The sort of common theme is that nobody thinks the skinny package is of any great value."
Cran says many customers are complaining that once they add additional fees and a few extra channels, the cost of the $25 package can become more expensive than their current TV deal.
"They're finding it doesn't add up," he said.
When the CRTC announced the upcoming deals last year, the broadcast regulator billed them as game-changing, a way "to maximize choice and affordability for Canadian TV viewers."
The commission had mandated that by March 1, service providers must offer a "skinny" 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 it appears many cable providers are going out of their way to make the mandated offerings as unattractive as possible. The $25 packages often exclude routine discounts, but include extra fees for necessities such as a digital TV box rental.
Plus some of the added individual or bundled channels come at a high price.
"Consumers feel let down by a process they thought would give them cost reductions and value," Cran said.
The consumer advocate says his group will address the problem with the CRTC and push to get Canadians a better deal.
"It seems that maybe the CRTC is giving much more protection to the industry than to consumers," he said.
No love for skinny package
CBC News has also received unsolicited complaints from disgruntled cable customers.
Forest McCready from Surrey, B.C., told us he crunched the numbers if he switched to Shaw's $25 deal.
Because he would also have to pay for a monthly PVR rental — a feature that comes for free with his current TV package — he concluded he would pay close to the same amount for a lot fewer channels.
McCready summed up the CRTC's long process to develop the new offerings as a "complete waste of time and taxpayer's money."
Employees at TV providers Rogers and Bell Canada also tell CBC News customers aren't clamouring for the new packages. The workers asked to remain anonymous because they fear repercussions from their employers.
"Almost no one is talking about skinny basic. Not a single person on my team has sold it yet," said a Bell employee.
After Rogers had been offering its new $25 starter pack for a couple of days, an employee informed us that after polling colleagues, he knew of only a handful of cases where customers switched to the plan.
He says he personally hasn't signed anyone up because the starter pack doesn't come with the discounts included in other TV plans. "Most customers are much better off on current packages," he said.
When asked for comment, Rogers said some people have signed up for its $25 starter deal while others have opted for different packages. Bell told CBC News that it complies with CRTC rules.
CRTC withholds action
Despite receiving hundreds of complaints, spokeswoman Valladao says the CRTC is taking a wait-and-see approach while it monitors the situation.
And for those cable customers not happy with the new packages? Valladao advises them to seek out something better.
"We encourage Canadians if they're not satisfied to shop around, to try to negotiate a deal," she said.