Bell offering à la carte TV in Quebec

Bell Canada is offering à la carte television channels in Quebec as part of an ever-deepening war with cable provider Vidéotron.

Bell Canada is offering à la carte television channels in Quebec as part of an ever-deepening war with cable provider Vidéotron.

The company on Friday announced new options that will allow television customers to subscribe to individual channels, rather than bundles that include unwanted channels. Customers must first take a basic $25 package that includes standard channels such as Global, CTV, CityTV and CBC, and can then choose 15 channels for $15, 20 for $19 or 30 for $22. Bell is also offering individual channels for $2 each.

"TV just got better for subscribers in Quebec, who now have the ultimate control and flexibility to get the channels they want," Kevin Crull, Bell's president of residential services, said in a statement.

Vidéotron already offers similar à la carte options, with basic service and 15 extra channels starting at $37 a month.

Quebec has been one of the most competitive regions for telecommunications, with some of the lowest prices in the country, since Vidéotron began selling home phone service in 2005. Since 2006, the company has added more internet and TV customers than Bell and has captured nearly a third of the home phone market. The company will also put more pressure on Bell, as well as Rogers and Telus, in the next year after it launches a new wireless service.

Bell last week announced it was investing in a major internet infrastructure upgrade in Quebec that will see fibre connections rolled out to homes over the next three years. The upgrade will allow the company to offer internet speeds of up to 100 megabits, to match Vidéotron's capability.

According to its website, Bell is not offering à la carte channels in Ontario, its other main television territory. Bell spokesperson Julie Smithers could not say why that was.

Rogers, Bell's chief TV rival in Ontario, does offer individual channels on top of basic service at a typical cost of $2.79 each. Basic television services in Ontario from both Bell and Rogers start at around $35 and $30, respectively.

The Competition Bureau said the considerable difference in service offerings between provinces does not violate its predatory or targeted pricing rules. The bureau considers a deliberate undercutting of a competitor, or the specific targeting of a rival's customers with special deals, to be predatory acts.

"It's quite normal for companies to try different prices in different areas, so it's not really a concern for us," said Gabrielle Tasse, a spokesperson for the Competition Bureau. "It might even give people more choices and encourage competition."

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has steadily loosened the rules regarding what channels must be offered by service providers for the past 10 years. The most recent loosening came in October 2008, when the regulator redefined package and à la carte obligations on cable and satellite companies.

Under current rules, television providers can sell à la carte if they also include all the channels sold in bundle packages. Also, 51 per cent or more of a customer's overall subscription must be comprised of Canadian channels.