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, making it clear that her government will pursue changes to stop cable and satellite providers from “bundling” television channels into all-or-nothing packages.

Glover said the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has until April 30 to deliver its report, including 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 recent throne speech, and Industry Minister James Moore has said previously that government will force TV service providers to stop all-or-nothing packaging by cable and satellite companies.

The broadcast regulator unveiled new rules in 2011 aimed at preventing cable providers from restricting consumer choice, and last month launched 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 will include the impacts on cost and multicultural programming, the minister said.

Some providers have already moved in this direction, Glover said, citing 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.”

The changes extend to telecommunications, Glover told reporters, saying Moore made an announcement earlier Thursday in New Brunswick.

Moore said that beginning next March, 2300 MHz and 3500 MHz licences auctioned off will begin to expire and carriers that haven’t met all conditions of those licences will not be renewed.

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

The aim of the auction was to expand wireless service into rural areas where subscribers couldn’t get high-speed broadband service from cable or their phone companies, and the licence conditions included a requirement to provide service in the entire area of the licence by the time it expired.

That condition was meant to force wireless expansion 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.

“Our government will continue to enhance rural access to high-speed broadband networks and will continue to put consumer interests at the core of our decisions.”

Licences that are not renewed will return to government hands 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,” she said.

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