Cable companies in Nova Scotia mum on next week's cheaper TV packages

They've had a year to prepare, but so far cable companies in Nova Scotia are remaining tight-lipped about new, less expensive cable options they've been ordered to provide effective March 1.

Bell Aliant and Eastlink deflect questions about what they will offer

Cable companies in Nova Scotia are giving few clues about what new CRTC-ordered services they will offer. (iStock)

They've had a year to prepare, but so far cable companies in Nova Scotia are remaining tight-lipped about new, less expensive cable options they've been ordered to provide effective March 1.

In March 2015, the CRTC ordered cable companies to provide basic, so-called skinny packages for $25 that customers can supplement with individual pick-and-pay channels or small bundles of channels.

By the end of 2016, they must offer subscribers the ability to both create bundles and buy individual channels.

The basic package must contain CBC, CTV and Global as well as aboriginal and minority English and French language channels. The CRTC says the $25 package could also include CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX and PBS.

No mention of changes

Neither of the two big cable companies in Nova Scotia — Eastlink and Bell Aliant — have any information about the changes on their websites.

"We will meet the March 1 timeline," Jill Laing, Eastlink's media and public relations spokeswoman, wrote in an email to CBC News.

"We're busy putting the final touches on the details, which will be shared and available on our website on March 1."

That was also the response that Peter Mombourquette got when he called his cable provider, Eastlink, on Friday. 

Mombourquette, the chair of Mount Saint Vincent University's business and tourism department, said he enjoys CNN but doesn't want to watch Fox News or Headline News. Under the current options, he has to subscribe and pay for the channels he doesn't want.

'Really isn't comforting as a consumer'

"My expectation, when this was first announced, was for the cable companies to provide some communication to their customers about the coming change and let them know how it would impact them," he said.

"But that doesn't seem to be the case — which really isn't comforting as a consumer because you'd like to have some leeway to think about your options."

Meanwhile, Bell Aliant's call centre now provides information on some of the changes planned for March 1, including that their $25 basic TV package will only be available if customers also purchase internet service, which starts at $85 a month.

Bell Aliant's customers could previously purchase television services only, but that will change as of March 1.

"Since we launched FibreOP TV and internet, the vast majority of customers have seen the value in subscribing to both," wrote spokesperson Isabelle Boulet in an email.

Changes may mean reduced revenue

Mombourquette believes the companies are probably trying to figure out how to price the changes so it doesn't impact their revenue.

"The result of this could be a lowering of revenue for the cable providers," he said.

"I would suspect strongly that they would not like this and they're going to try to price this where there is no change in revenue or they may come up with a way to produce more revenue from it."

Alysia Lau, a lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa, was one of those who argued for better deals for consumers before the CRTC.

"It gives customers more options and more choice when it comes to customizing their service," she said of the coming changes.

"In some cases, customers may like their current packages and stick with them. In other cases they may want to cut their package or reduce it a little and that might not necessarily be in these cable companies' favour."

Lack of promotion an issue

Last week, the CRTC also weighed in on the lack of communication from cable companies about the new offerings, issuing an information bulletin reminding them to promote the new services.

"I think that was a very not-so-subtle message saying, 'We expect you to do a much better job in communicating these changes,"' Mombourquette said, adding he suspects more subtle messages have been sent by the CRTC over the past year.

"At this point in time, I felt they were a little exasperated with the lack of co-operation."

Lau said her organization will be watching how cable companies deal with these changes.

Mombourquette said the lack of information leaves customers in a difficult position.

"They're stuck paying their current cable bill and as Eastlink told me, go to their website March 1 and try to basically figure it out yourself."

He's urging cable customers to check out the new offerings on March 1 and compare them to their current cable bill.


Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days she helps consumers navigate an increasingly complex marketplace and avoid getting ripped off. She invites story ideas at