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‘Skinny-basic’ TV roll-out being probed

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OTTAWA—The national broadcast regulator and the country’s four biggest television service providers are in for an earful this week over the roll-out earlier this year of so-called “skinny-basic” TV.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will kick off public hearings tomorrow to discuss how the new, trimmed-down $25 packages have been offered to consumers.

Hundreds of complaints were filed with the CRTC and consumer groups in the weeks after the regulator mandated the packages, which came into effect March 1.

Many complainants expressed disappointment that the long-awaited arrival of smaller basic TV packages and different channel choices didn’t prove to be the deal they had hoped for.

To the Consumers’ Association of Canada, which received about 1,000 complaints in just six weeks, it appeared many cable providers were trying to discourage consumers from switching to the smaller offerings by making them as unattractive as possible, said the group’s president, Bruce Cran.

“The service providers went out of their way to make it difficult for all of us as consumers,” he charged.

“Overall, I don’t think we got anything of value.”

While the packages themselves were mandated to cost $25 or less, that price often excluded routine discounts, such as those offered for bundling two or more services, but included extra fees for necessities such as the rental of a digital TV box.

The CRTC has maintained the goal of requiring service providers to offer a small basic package, along with bundles or individual channels, was never to ensure subscribers get more TV for free.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais also has suggested consumers should haggle with their service providers.

But Blais also had said the CRTC would “not hesitate to act” if TV distributors ignore the spirit of the new regulations.

Industry insiders say the regulator was most annoyed by service providers that required customers to buy other services in order to get a $25 TV package.

But while he faulted the service providers for pushing the boundaries of fine print, Cran said the CRTC also must take responsibility for failing to give clear guidelines to the cable and satellite companies for what it considered an acceptable pricing model.

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