Upon return from my vacation today I came across a letter from my cable provider (Rogers) that as of September 1 they would be instituting an additional 1.5% rate hike. The purpose of the hike is to cover a Local Television Levy that was mandated by the CRTC. This follows a rate increase that was instituted earlier in the year.
The monies are supposed to go to support local television stations that for the most part deliver their content to Rogers in High Definition format and sold to me in a format that is down-converted to standard definition. Needless to say the charge and the situation is ridiculous.
Given my high subscription fees that are supposed to cover these stations as part of my “basic service subscription” coupled with the monopolistic situation around my cable provider I had to take action and write my member of parliament. I feel strongly that the situation is Canada is out of control primarily due to corporate concentration from which I’m deriving little benefit and am being provided no consumer protection.
Here is the text of the letter I sent……
656 The Queensway
As a member of your riding I thought I would write to you about my concerns about the relevancy of the Canadian Radio and Television Commission. My understanding was that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) was created for the purpose of ensuring broadcasting and telecommunications systems serve the Canadian public. What has sparked my letter is that today I received a letter from Rogers indicating that they will be introducing (yet another) charge to my cable bill to subsidize local television stations under the direction of the CRTC. What I can’t figure out is why I am being charged more money by Rogers for signals that are not HD quality and that I already get over the air for free.
Cable Bill Increases Since Deregulation
Given that the CRTC has granted Rogers a monopoly –and no other Cable company is allowed to exist in my area– I’m quite upset about this. I see no evidence from Rogers balance sheets that there is any justification for any rate increases that go beyond inflation. And yet over the past few years the CRTC has routinely allowed rate increases that have greatly exceed the rate of inflation, while I have experienced a drop in services.
I also wanted to express that over the same period of time I have become increasingly concerned about the Commissions ability to protect Canadians from the large corporate entities that they have allowed to overtake much of the Canadian Broadcasting System. This extends to both the broadcasting stations themselves and its distribution undertaken by the counties countries BDU’s. I’m also gravely concerned about a similar situation that appears to be evolving around internet distribution in the form of Net Neutrality issues to both home and mobile devices.
While I appreciate (and applaud) the Commissions long term goal to ensure Canadian content appears on Canadian channels, I can’t understand many of the decisions that were made over the last few years and how they have benefited me as a consumer. To be blunt they have always appeared to be in favour of these corporate conglomerates and from what I can see they have not resulted in many improvements to me as both a consumer and as a Canadian.
Please allow me to table a few thoughts….
While some of these decisions go back several years my concerns include;
What Gives? - Paying For "Free TV" Three Times?
Concern 1 – I’m concerned that I continue to have to pay a basic service fee to Rogers Cable under the guise of them delivering local channels. The truth is that I can pick them up over-the-air for free and I currently do so at a higher quality than Rogers currently delivers. My major issue with the “basic service” argument is that by living in Toronto I can now pick local channels up with better quality then Rogers delivers in High Definition with an antenna for free.
While I have no issue with paying for specialty channels that I desire and would like to, the minimal entry fee for me to subscribe to specialty channels of my own choosing has exceeded $35.00 per month for Rogers “basic” service. As such most of that $35 goes to pay for the “basic service” channels that I’m already picking up from my antenna –at the higher HDTV quality– and for free.
Given the current scenario I don’t understand how the CRTC is protecting me as a consumer. It appears to me that the CRTC is in bed with the BDU’s by allowing this “basic service” charge to continue and double charging me for local TV even though I’m picking them up off of my aerial. With this new charge I no longer understand what the $35 “basic service” covers and why Rogers is not paying for this instead of me???
As I see it I’m being double –if not triple– charged for low quality signals of “local broadcast stations” for the privilege of receiving some specialty channels. This is really a troubling situation…..
What About TV At My Cottage? Will I have To Pay Again For What Is Now Free?
Concern 2 – While on the topic of over the air TV stations, I’m really concerned that the CRTC is going to start allowing licenses to continue for local over the air stations that won’t have to upgrade their transmission capability to High Definition TV. This begs the question, how am I going to receive television at my Cottage in the after 2011 whe these broadacasters are supposed to turn off their transmitters? Am I going to have to get a service outside of Toronto and pay these BDU’s even more money every month?
What gives here? Is the Commission giving up on the concept of free over-the-air TV for Canadians and forcing them to pay BDU’s to deliver local TV? If so I need to ask how is the CRTC protecting me as a consumer? Sorry to sound so pessimistic but it seems again that the CRTC is not protecting me as a Canadian. It looks to me as if the CRTC is in bed with these monopolistic BDU’s and will be putting me in a situation to purchase additional subscriptions from them in 2011.
Currently my BDU downconverts the local stations HDTV broadcasts to standard definition to deliver them to me as part of my "basic cable service". If I want them in their native HDTV format Rogers charges me a higher rate for HDTV service. To add insult to injury the CRTC wants me to pay Rogers an additional 1.5% levy (over my entire cable bill) for local station TV image quality that traces its roots to the 1940's... How out of touch can the CRTC be by allowing this?
Concern 3 – I’m very concerned that BDU’s charge extra for HDTV delivery for over-the-air local television delivery that has already been upgraded by the local broadcaster to High Definition Television. Currently my cable company is delivering these channels in standard definition and wants to charge me extra for the High Definition version. This makes no sense. To provide an analogy I think you would be up in arms if the Cable Companies delivered TV signals in black and white and charged you more to deliver the signals in colour. Again I find this is an especially bad situation given that my cable company (Rogers) is in a government allowed monopoly situation here in Toronto. Again I can’t see where the CRTC is protecting me as a consumer given the transition to HDTV that will be completed in 2011?
Concern 4 – I’m concerned that no technical delivery standards appear to exist for the BDU’s –that are in these monopoly scenarios– around the quality of the HDTV signals that they deliver. Much of what I’ve seen from the BDU’s have been highly compressed signals that distort the HDTV image as it passes through their distribution chain. We all know they do this in order to squeeze more pay services on their systems. The result is often degraded block ridden images that result in images not up to par with the standard to which HDTV was developed and adopted as our standard here in Canada. There needs to be standards in this area here especially where consumers are not offered choices.
This lack of standards should also include the delivery of satellite TV where it is common for the signal to drop out in snowstorms, heavy rains and clouds. Because of satellite TV deficiencies you cannot convince me that Satellite TV is an alternative to Cable TV. I don’t feel that these satellite operators understood that we live in Canada when they deployed their systems and they need to further develop their systems to reflect the nature of our climate. The CRTC also needs to ensure that free digital over-the-air broadcasting covers the region for which the broadcaster is licensed. They need to ensure dark area’s are filled in and that minimal antenna’s can pick up the complete range of channels. I’m not sure (or convinced) that this area of technical delivery standards is overseen to the extent that it should.
The Promise - More To See On Cable TV?
Concern 5 – I’m concerned about the dropping of services by the BDU’s. We as Canadian have little choice in what they decide to do. A good example of this was the delivery of local FM and some AM radio services by my Cable company. They dropped it some years ago without adequate notification and without an alternative provided. All the while I as a consumer have had to endure high government approved rate increases annually from Rogers, while the services that were provided were dropped in order to provide the bandwidth to accommodate more paid services. Again, as a Canadian, I don’t understand how the CRTC protected me or even the local Canadian FM and AM stations that were delivered as part of this service?
Rogers Campus In Toronto - BDU/Cellular/Radio/Television/Cable Under One Roof
Concern 6 – For the life of me I can’t understand why the CRTC is allowing cross ownership of specialty channels and over-the-air stations by BDU’s. This is a real area of concern. All these stations have different business models and it seems to be that the corporate entities that control them homogenize their operations and then try everything to convince the CRTC that they all need to operate by subscription model that can be delivered only via these monopolistic BDU’s. I gather these mandated subscriptions were used as the basis to deploy the Local Television Levy.
My feeling is that by allowing this kind of concentration there has been a lack of promotion of free over-the-air services and how consumers can take advantage of them. As well the current ownership situation has worked in the BDU’s interest as the corporate entity makes profit by both running the station and then charging the consumer to deliver it. To add insult to injury the CRTC allows this and allows the BDU to charge even more to deliver these stations TV signals at HDTV quality.
Once again my concerns go to the CRTC. Where is the CRTC in protecting the diversity of the Canadian broadcast system. They’ve allowed an increased corporate concentration and developed an increasingly homogeneous industry that is highly susceptible. I’m afraid I can’t buy into the concept that recent decisions around broadcasting ownership in Canada have made it a much stronger industry.
Ice Road Truckers - Is this suitable content for the History Channel?
Concern 7 – I’m also concerned that the Canadian specialty channels that I’m forced to pay for as part of a package don’t stick to their theme. What I mean by this is programs like Ice Road Truckers and Outlaw Bikers, as well as movies like Boogie Nights and The Perfect Storm are borderline content to a Canadian Specialty Channel that bills itself as the History Network and sold in a package. For the record the Canadian History Channel is not alone in this practice. But since the History Channel is bundled by my Cable package, I can’t unsubscribe in protest without dropping the entire package of specialty channels of which some of them I want.
This erosion of the content relating to a specialty channel license is simply wrong. I can’t understand why the CRTC does not protect me as a consumer by pulling the licenses of such specialty channels that stray out of their area of specialty programming. If you watch these channels closely they all seem to be repeating the same content year after year.
The system should as a minimum allow me to individually subscribe to the specialty channels I want, especially if I can demonstrate that I receive the basic Canadian TV Channels via free over the air TV. The settop box technology exists to log what I get over the air but as it stands I can’t do this currently because the BDU’s havn’t implemented the technology….
I ask why not mandate that each specialty channel to offer direct subscription based Internet delivery of its station to get around these BDU monopolies and packages?
Concern 8 – I’m concerned about less accessible BDU based public Community TV channels. We now live in a time where many Canadians can technically produce programs TV in their homes that would be quite suitable for the “community channel” environment. However, several years ago the CRTC allowed commercial production to appear on the Community Channel. While it resulted a notable professional look to stations like the Rogers Community Channel, my gut feeling is that the commercialization also cut access to individual Canadians who might want to take advantage of the television medium to get their messages across in a non-commercial manner.
From what I’ve seen from the culture of these BDU’s, money always wins….
Concern 9 – I’m now watching (and following as closely as I can) the CRTC trying to deal with these same BDU’s around Canadian access to wireless and the Internet. Just over a decade ago, Canadians in Urban areas had amongst the worlds best and least expensive access to the Internet. Today from what I’m reading and hearing our access is amongst the most expensive and these BDU’s are not all that progressive in developing new services. There are many reports that Canada has fallen sadly behind in this area. Access to the Internet is essential to the Canadian economy and is an absolute requirement so Canadians can take advantage of the network to build businesses and services on it. What’s even worse is recent hearings have revealed these BDU’s are throttling network data and threatening Net neutrality.
When I add all of this up I have to ask the question, is the CRTC relevant? Is it still serving Canadians for the purpose that it was established? My personal feeling is that it does not. My feeling is that it has become a Commission that feeds these monopolies, encourages corporate concentration by its policies. The Commission may not be doing this intentionally but from what I’m experiencing its decisions are not working out in the best interests of Canadian consumers. Based on this I’m now very afraid of the compromises the Commission might undertake relating to Net Neutrality (consciously or unconsciously) by its actions or even its inaction’s.
My question to you is as my member of Parliament is what choice as a Canadian do I have? How can I refuse to pay the 1.5% increase as a form of protest until the CRTC (or whatever) modernizes its approach. Like all Canadian I expect and deserve some real choice in TV and Internet services that I receive and pay for, but I seem to be paying more and getting less.
Do you have any answers to this?
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