Written By Gina Roberts and John Lawford
Consumers, thanks in part to consumer and public interest groups (like PIAC) are finally being heard by the CRTC about the need for more flexible and affordable television services.
On March 19th the CRTC announced their decision to have pick-and-pay options and packages for television services, as well as “skinny” basic packages available at affordable rates to all Canadians; something PIAC and other consumer groups have been suggesting since 2010.
At that time, consumers were dissatisfied in the lack of flexibility with service packages, and identified affordability as having choice in what they pay for. So, in a 2010 report about OTA value and regulations, “skinny” basic and pick-and-pay were proposed as potential affordability solutions. However, the CRTC felt both ideas clashed with existing policies and direction. In particular, they ruled that “skinny” basic was unwanted because consumers were leaning towards the pick-and-pay approach. The CRTC stated their position may change.
A year later it did. For the worse.
In 2011 during hearings for regulation framework regarding VI, PIAC suggested a requirement for “skinny” basic. It was supported by several Consumer Interest parties, again as an affordability solution. This time the CRTC out right rejected it believing market competition would ensure affordability, and because there was “insufficient evidence” of consumer interest; although pick-and-pay was seen as beneficial to consumers. The CRTC expected VI companies to go in this direction and report on their service flexibility the following year. If they failed to progress, the CRTC would issue a “notice of consultation to determine what obligations should be imposed”.
So, the CRTC first traded off skinny basic against pick and pay, or, in other words, divided the two major consumer interests, affordability and choice, and pitted them against each other. Then it dismissed both concerns with blind faith in the market.
By 2012 consumers were still agitated about the inflexibility of television service packages and soaring costs added to the fire. At this time Bell Canada was attempting to purchase Astral Media and the issue of affordability was raised once again by PIAC and Consumer Interest groups. They identified that consumers had to rely on a market not in their favour for flexibility and affordability. Bloated ‘basic’ service packages, and now ‘cord-cutting’ to save money, backed the case for “skinny” basic requirements. In addition, a decrease in options for television packages showed the market hadn’t become flexible as the CRTC previously hoped.
The CRTC began asking Canadians for their views on the broadcasting industry in 2013 with their Let’s TalkTV launch. Canadians continued to state their overwhelming dissatisfaction with television services and Consumer Interest groups continued to champion their concerns. PIAC in a coalition with other organizations named the Groups for the Public Interest, argued forcefully for consumer choice (pick and pay) AND affordability (skinny basic). Finally, the CRTC saw the light and consumers won the requirement for pick-and-pay options and “skinny” basic television.
It’s been a long road for PIAC and other consumer interest groups, but were pleased to work, for years, to achieve affordability and choice to broadcasting services for Canadians.