Heritage minister asks CRTC to report on pick-and-pay TV services

VANCOUVER – Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover says she has asked the federal broadcast regulator to prepare a report on so-called pick-and-pay television services as a preliminary step toward putting an end to bundling channels into all-or-nothing packages.

Glover said the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has until April 30 to deliver its report, which is to include steps the agency plans to take toward unbundling TV services.

“We are convinced that this is something that Canadian consumers want,” Glover said Thursday in Vancouver. “We want to give them choice and we have indicated very clearly that we will require television channels to be unbundled.”

The move is part of a consumer-first strategy outlined in the federal government’s recent throne speech. Industry Minister James Moore had already said the government would force TV service providers to stop all-or-nothing packaging by cable and satellite companies.

The broadcast regulator outlined new rules in 2011 aimed at preventing cable providers from restricting consumer choice and last month began consultations on the future of television in Canada.

“Our government is asking for a complete and comprehensive picture from the CRTC of the impact of unbundling television channels. First and foremost, we want to know the impact on consumers,” Glover said.

The examination is to include the impacts on cost and multicultural programming, the minister said.

Some providers have already moved in this direction, said Glover, who cited Videotron in Quebec. Bell and Rogers have also taken steps, she said, “but not to the extent, of course, where it is a complete unbundling of services.”

Shawn Hall, spokesman for Telus (TSX:T), said the company has already moved toward a la carte television with its Optik service.

Hall said the company has the smallest basic package in the country and offers more than 100 channels on an individual basis in addition to 15 theme packs.

Hall said cable and satellite companies are hindered somewhat in making the changes on their own.

“One of the biggest obstacles to providing more customer choice stems from the contractual obligations that are imposed by content providers. They often require services are delivered in a specific way.”

The changes extend to telecommunications, said Glover, who pointed to an announcement by Moore on Thursday about licensing for fixed wireless service.

Moore said that beginning next March, 2300 MHz and 3500 MHz licences will begin to expire and carriers that haven’t met conditions to provide wireless throughout the area covered by a licence will not have them renewed.

The 2300 and 3500 MHz bands are for fixed wireless service by providers that broadcast signals from antennas to businesses and homes.

The aim is to expand wireless service into rural areas where lower profit margins and higher costs have made some carriers reluctant to deploy.

“Our government will only renew spectrum licences for those holders that have met all conditions of licence. Those that have not used the spectrum will lose it,” Moore said in a statement from New Brunswick.

Licences that are not renewed will return to the government and possibly be auctioned off again in future.

Glover said the revisions to both television and telecommunications rules will benefit consumers.

“Today’s announcements are important steps in defending Canadian consumers and giving them the choice and access they expect and, frankly, deserve.”