CRTC waves upcoming TV licence renewals as possible enforcement tool

TORONTO – The head of Canada’s broadcaster regulator says it’s too soon to tell if Canadian TV service providers are respecting the spirit of the CRTC’s new basic cable regulation, often referred to as skinny basic.

However, Jean-Pierre Blais hints that the CRTC has a big stick to wave for those who don’t comply — television licence renewals.

“Most of the television services provider licences — their actual licences — are up for renewal in the short term,” Blais, the CRTC’s chairman and CEO, said in an interview following a speech Tuesday to the Canadian Marketing Association in Toronto.

“I don’t even have to do enforcement action. Their licences are there in front of us.”

The CRTC has been on the lookout for anti-consumer practices since the March 1 deadline requiring all cable and satellite TV service providers to offer basic cable packages capped at $25 a month. Companies must also let consumers add on a la carte channels or pre-packaged bundles, and must offer both of these options by December.

After cable companies rolled out their new offerings, some consumers expressed discontent at the packages, with the CRTC having received 600 consumer calls on the issue since March 1.

However, it’s too early to conclude that any of the companies are engaging in anti-consumer behaviour, he said.

As the new regulation is phased in, the CRTC continues to monitor company offerings. Already, Blais has noticed that some providers have tweaked their plans, likely because they’ were not adhering to the regulation or they weren’t working well for consumers.

“Like in any industry, if the guy across the street is underselling you by 50 cents on a $1.50 hamburger, you’re going to change your prices… or your attitude, and offer something else,” he said.

But, not all of the onus is on the companies. Canadians must be willing to compare plans and switch providers, he said, as well as negotiate for better deals.

“Unfortunately, you’ve got to threaten because that’s the only one way your call will get escalated,” he said. “It’s the only way you’ll get a special deal — maybe just for 12 months, but that’s a marketplace. That’s a dynamic marketplace where you’ve got to be an actor and going out and trying to negotiate the deal.”

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