Regulator to unveil new TV bundling rules


GATINEAU, Que. – Canadian consumers could be given more control over how they pay for the TV they watch in a decision being released today by the country’s broadcast regulator.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is set to unveil new rules governing how cable and satellite service providers package and sell access to channels.

The decision is the latest result from the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV hearings held in the fall.

The Harper government has been pushing the regulator to allow for a so-called pick-and-pay system that allows consumers to choose and pay only for the individual channels they want.

However, the CRTC hinted late last summer that it would be open to a pick-and-pay option built on top of a trimmed-down mandatory service the industry has dubbed skinny basic.

In a discussion framework released in August, the regulator suggested a price cap of between $20 and $30 could be imposed on basic TV packages.

But it’s not clear whether skinny basic would be an all-Canadian service that includes local stations and provincial educational channels, or a service that includes American networks as well.

Critics including the C.D. Howe Institute have warned that any proposals to mandate pick-and-pay channel choices would be an exercise in futility, in light of technological change. They say it could harm the industry and actually end up costing consumers more rather than less.

The CRTC has been criticized — and taken to court — over recent decisions from the Let’s Talk TV hearings, including a move to ban the simultaneous substitution of Canadian advertising for American commercials during the Super Bowl.

The regulator has also been both commended and panned for its decision to reform the rules governing the Canadian TV programming that goes to air.