cable rates

Changes Coming To Cable

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission has issued a schedule in regards to the implementation of the “skinny basic” and pick-and-pay cable rules.

By March 1st, 2016 cable providers will be required to offer their basic package at $25, which will include the “must carry” status channels. And by December 1st, 2016 cable providers will be required to offer the remainder of their channels individually or in small packages.

I watch mostly my local networks and on occasion the American networks so my cable bill should drop considerably once my contract with Rogers is over. But I am still looking into foregoing cable entirely and going with an external television antenna.

When Much Music, Musique Plus and the other music video stations aired actually musical content it was worth paying a few bucks a month but i’ve had Youtube/Vevo, iTunes and my music video collection for a while now. And the news, weather and other content that was once exclusive to cable are now online.

VMedia are currently offering their skinny basic package of approximately 30 local and American network channels for $17.95 so perhaps we’ll see some deals before the new year. Hopefully.

Vmedia Offers Free Trail

Independent cable provider Vmedia is offering a free trial for their services. Please contact Vmedia for details.

Is Free Television Being Phased Out ?

Do you guys remember when we were first told that off air television broadcasts would go digital and that more people would be getting free television using antennas ?

Do you remember when we could watch television programs for free online legally through the Canadian network web sites ?

Well, if you want proof that the cable and satellite companies don’t want people to “cut the cord” you just have to look at the current status of television in Canada.

It started with Global Television in my area.

I had decided to stop paying $7 plus tax per month for extra outlets and although I was able to receive Global Television clearly for months, it has suddenly disappeared one summer.

Apparently the owner of the network decided to reduce the strength of the transmission so now an external antennae is required. But this was of course no problem because I was able to access television programs online via the network’s web site.

Then a few months back I noticed I was no longer receiving CTV, which had a strong signal until then.

I am located within 15 kilometers from the broadcasting tower for both stations so there was no reason for my loss of CTV as well. But like Global Television, CTV is also owned by a cable or satellite provider so I had assumed that they also reduced their off air broadcasting strength. And again I decided to stick to on demand and online broadcasts until I get an external antenna.

By then I had switched from Rogers Cable to Bell Fibe TV so I was mostly just watching television programs on demand for free, just like I has done with Rogers. But since Rogers had purchased the rights to the hockey broadcasts there appeared to be issues relating to what could be viewed by what subscribers online.

Now Canadians are being asked to login their cable or satellite provider accounts to view television programs on the major network sites. And the selection of programing is currently  limited to the networks owned by their provider.

Bravo.

Personally I think we should be able to get our local channels off air and online based on our IP address.

There should be enough advertisement revenue there for networks to profit on and cable and satellite providers could always give people access to specialty networks and  on demand programming.

We should be progressing off the problematic off air VHF frequencies and move stations to UHF like most American networks have.

Phase 3 of the “Let’s Talk TV” consultations at the CRTC will begin in April with the publication of details on the public hearing scheduled in September. And from the government’s response last Budget Day, it appears that our cable/satellite channels may get unbundled.

Hopefully this will not be more expensive for consumers, a concern we should all share because these companies have been hiking their rates excessively over the past few years.

The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting estimated in Oct 2013 that many of Canada’s cable companies had hiked their rates from 81% to 96% since 2002 ; Almost five times inflation. And Forbes believes the model is unsustainable so we’ve got to wonder what exactly we’re going to be subjected to as consumers.

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had mentioned that “cable-TV companies have become like utilities because there are only so many providers that offer the service in a certain region” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last October so perhaps the current government is considering regulating them. But I guess we’ll only know for sure after  the public hearings in September.

By the way, you can access information in regards to the previous phases of “Let’s Talk TV” on the official CRTC web site, which includes comments from the public.

My Thoughts On The Throne Speech

There were quite a few music related  issues mentioned in the throne speech that I’d like to discuss, so here they are in the order presented in the speech :

Government assets

“Our Government will review federal assets; when it is in the best interest of Canadians, they will be sold.”

Unfortunately that may include the CBC/Radio Canada, which has been in the cross hairs for years.

The CBC/Radio Canada has remained a constant for the promotion of Canadian music so its loss to another major network would be felt through-out Canada. And I’m hoping that the support shown during the recent CRTC hearings will keep the CBC/Radio Canada going. But I suspect the current government will cut into this public broadcaster’s budget again soon.

Heather Conway will be the new executive vice-president of English-language services at the CBC in a few weeks so we should know CBC’s fate soon.

Cable/Wireless

“Our Government will take steps to reduce roaming costs on networks within Canada. Our Government believes Canadian families should be able to choose the combination of television channels they want. It will require channels to be unbundled, while protecting Canadian jobs.”

A deduction on wireless roaming fees would be great. But I have some doubt in regards to the reduction of cable fees through unbundling.

Yes, it would be more convenient to choose which channels you want. But will choosing individual channels result in lower monthly bills for the average consumer ?

The providers have been hiking their rates significantly higher than the rate of inflation, claiming the expansion of their services justified these rates. And I suspect they will fight any reduction tooth and nail until their industry is eventually decimated by online broadcasting.

The CRTC will be holding public hearings on the future of Cable and Satellite television, starting on the 24th of this month, and I’m sure Canadian consumers will make it abundantly clear that it’s time to move on.

I, for one, will probably only have an antenna and internet access in four to five years if they don’t get their hikes under control.

Rural Internet

“Our Government will continue enhancing high-speed broadband networks for rural Canadians.”

Good news but I just hope the rates will be more reasonable. There definitely needs to be a reduction in price to make these services more affordable to the average Canadian consumer.

I would hate having to download music and stream music videos using the very limited speeds found in some rural communities. And with cutbacks at Canada Post access will become essential.

At Par Purchasing ?

“And our Government will take additional action to protect Canadian consumers. Canadians are tired of hidden fees. They deserve to know the real cost of paying by debit or credit card. And they should not be charged more in Canada for identical goods that sell for less in the United States.”

When I purchase books I mostly purchase music biographies, industry books and sheet music. But I’ve pretty much given up on purchasing books in my local book stores because of the higher Canadian sticker prices.

I don’t think the industry can be helped now because of the e-Book, which is much more convenient. But it could help people who prefer paperbacks, like yours truly.

My most recent paperback purchase was Belinda Carlisle’s Lips Unsealed: A Memoir, whose regular price is $17 in Canadian book stores but $15 in American book stores.

The difference in price is usually attributed to higher labour and transportation costs but many consumers have been questioning whether this is a valid argument since our dollar got strong.

Seriously, if it weren’t for the shipping costs I’d probably buy more from the states and several Americans companies have already started offering free shipping to Canadians. The Canadian retailers definitely need to get their prices down.

The prices on compact discs and DVDs/Blu-rays are o.k but when it comes to imports I can still find better deals outside of Canada, even with shipping & handling.

For example, I just imported Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven On Earth" and "Runaway Horses" CD/DVD boxed sets from England for $35, shipping and handling included. These British releases would have cost me at least $42 to purchase in Canada, with free shipping but taxes not included.

I don’t know what measures can be taken to help this situation on the federal level. But as a consumer I’d appreciate lower costs.

I’m sure rural Canadians would enjoy an elimination of the fees associated to paper billing proposed in this speech. But I’m guessing public consultations will probably be required for most of these changes.

I will of course post additional details on these issues as they come along.

Internet Usage Based Billing To Stay

As you may know the CRTC ruled that Internet Usage Billing was fine on Tuesday, provided that a 15% discount be given to the smaller internet providers.

Unfortunately this means that unlimited internet access will likely disappear, as soon as March 2011 in some cases, reducing the customer’s ability to rent High Definition films and concerts online.

Yes, it is possible to change the settings on Netflix to only watch material in Standard Definition, and to only rent films on iTunes in SD. But most people who have invested in HD televisions and the nessesary internet compatible equipment had expected accesibility to the higher quality video and audio formats.

I, for one, am quite content watching DVD quality films and concerts. But even Standard Definition film streams add up so I will likely continue renting films at the local store or from a mailing service, both of which are owned by one of the larger internet providers mentioned in the CRTC ruling.

I just hope that more automated movie dispensers will make their way into Canadian neighbourhoods to drive the price of rentals down because the prices of HD rentals on my cable box are ridiculous. I refuse to pay $7.99 when I can rent it from a store for two dollars less.

As you can tell I am getting quite annoyed with my cable company, especially now that I know they’ll be raising my rates in March. I am serioulsy considering ending my 20 year relationship with them and going for IPTV or OTA television.

Actually “relationship” isn’t really the most apt word to describe it. After all, I had no real choice but to be subjected to their excessive, stock value padding rate hikes until satellite came in, which has its drawbacks as well. But I digress.

I knew unlimited internet wasn’t going to last in Canada as soon as the broadcasters started posting their material online. This distribution is a threat to the television distribution monopolies of this country, who could cry foul and call this downloading illegal prior to this transition.

They had also resisted digital television in Canada via the networks they own, claiming the analog to digital television expendatures were too great. They’ve even managed to delay the transition for some of their stations beyond the August 31st, 2011 deadline set by the CRTC.

Internet usage based billing will be subject to the same consistant hikes we saw in cable and satellite fees, as the monopolies transition from their traditional distribution to an on demand service.

I believe they are raising their cable and satellite fees as quickly as possible to establish high rates to then sell the illusion of savings to the Canadian consumers who are not aware that we are already paying significantly higher than average rates for internet access according to a October 2009 study by the Berkman Center For Internet & Society at Harvard University.