On September 8th, PIAC was invited by the CRTC to represent consumers’ views at a hearing regarding the ‘skinny basic’ service which was implemented by all Canadian TV providers earlier this year. The hearing served as somewhat of a follow-up on the direction of TV over the last few months.
PIAC believes that offering a ‘skinny basic’ package is a great step forward for consumers and businesses. It allows a low price option for consumers who are stuck in higher-priced packages but only watch a few channels and it also gives consumers who are avoiding just that scenario the choice to sign up as new customers for a reasonable price.
Unfortunately, the roll out of skinny basic was missing a mandatory (at that time) ‘pick and pay’ option, which would give consumers real control over their cable package and many companies that did offer pick and pay were priced very high. Pick and pay will be available from all providers in December of 2016 and PIAC hopes competition will help lower those prices.
The skinny basic hearing was a chance to look back at the implementation of skinny basic, the problems that consumers have had since then, and what CRTC will be considering for the future of television. The first day featured the companies answering questions from the CRTC.
The first problem addressed was bundle discounts. Bundle discounts often weren’t given for skinny basic subscribers, while other subscribers in the higher-priced brackets were given them. If you’re getting your TV from a company, and they normally have bundle deals with internet or phone, you should be eligible regardless of what TV package you have. As the hearing progressed, Rogers said they would give bundle discounts to those subscribers in the near future.
Shaw also received criticism from the CRTC blocking video on demand and free previews for people on skinny basic. They claimed that this was because of a ‘tech issue’ and it would soon be resolved.
Finally, on day 1, Bell had to explain the leak of some customer service representative materials which called for employees to discourage people from buying the skinny basic package. Bell claimed it was limited to their Bell Aliant branch, and that they needed to centralize their learning materials in the future. However, it does show the reluctance with which some of the companies approached the skinny basic mandate to begin with.
PIAC presented to the CRTC on the second day of the hearing and was very clear, consumers want an “all-in” pricing scheme so you know how expensive your skinny basic package will be: that would include the receiver or PVR, installation fee, loss of any discounts, hardware or how much it would cost in a bundle. PIAC also asked for more clarity around what is included in packages and for the companies to find a way to promote packages more fairly online and through customer service people; there should be a requirement to mention that skinny basic and pick and pay are options for customers.
“We’re trying to make it so that the companies don’t play games, and when you call you get an honest description of what’s in the package, what it’s going to cost you and how it’s going to affect your other services,” John Lawford, Executive Director of PIAC said.  “Given honest information, people will pick what works best for them and a good portion will pick skinny basic. A good portion more will pick it once pick and pay is available.”
The hearing seemed to indicate that the direction of TV is certainly more friendly to consumers. Currently, there is some progress on a TV Service Provider Code (TVSP), similar to the Wireless Code that PIAC championed 3 years ago. Stronger rights for consumers and more options through the skinny basic and pick and pay plans leave consumers with more control over what they watch and how much they pay. We’re looking forward to working with the CRTC to ensure that consumers are heard for the new TVSP code and that the new options are properly promoted by TV companies.