On July 7, the CRTC issued a decision (Public Notice CRTC 1999-108) whereby cable companies will now be required to obtain approval from CRTC before increasing their basic monthly fee when the fee increase is the result of adding a specialty service to the basic package. Specialty services are those channels which generally offer a special theme such as news, sports, or music, etc.. Consumers have long complained to the CRTC about the cable companies arbitrarily adding channels and raising rates in basic service. The CRTC proposed to amend the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations earlier this year (Public Notice CRTC 1999-56) and asked for public comment. In its submission to the CRTC, PIAC supported the proposed amendments and argued that public participation in CRTC decision making should involve all channels which are included in the basic package, including specialty channels.
Under the new rules, cable subscribers will have to be notified about proposed price increases and will have 30 days to voice their concerns to the CRTC. The cable companies will also be required to file information with the CRTC to justify why a specialty channel should be added to basic service. With these changes, the CRTC will be able to suspend or disallow a proposed fee increase if it determines that such an increase is not justified. This is a good victory for consumers. In spite of the hype about competition, most Canadians do not have a choice of who provides their cable service, and where choice does exist, e.g., satellite tv, it is not a comparable option because it can be more expensive than the traditional wire-line cable service.