CRTC renewing most TV provider licences for just one year

Rather than renew for the standard seven-year term, CRTC pushes providers to improve on 'skinny basic TV policy'

TORONTO – Canada’s broadcast regulator renewed the licences of most TV service providers for one year, rather than the usual seven-year term, as it keeps a close eye on whether their basic cable offerings are keeping customers’ interests and wallets in mind.

“We have the one-year licence renewal to have a watchful eye on the deployment of this next phase of the Let’s Talk TV policy,” said Scott Hutton, the CRTC’s executive director of broadcasting.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s so-called skinny basic TV policy goes into full effect on Dec. 1.

Since March 1, TV service providers have had to offer customers basic cable packages at no more than $25 monthly, and allow them to add on extra channels individually or through pre-packaged bundles of up to 10 channels. Starting in December, companies must offer both individual and small packages of channels to customers.

The changes came after the CRTC asked Canadians how their TV services could be improved.

As the companies implemented the first phase, the CRTC noted that some employed practices that weren’t in line with the spirit of the policy, which in part was intended to give Canadians more choice and more affordable options.

The regulator released a set of best practices Monday “to ensure that there’s some course correction,” Hutton said.

The CRTC said companies should give customers information on the soon-to-be available choices, offer online tools that will allow subscribers to add or remove channels easily and provide different options for obtaining a set-top box, among other things.

The regulator will evaluate how well the TV service providers adhere to these practices, as well as other compliance issues, when their licences are set to expire next year.

If they fail to satisfy the CRTC, Hutton said the regulator has a variety of tools at its disposal to escalate the situation, including imposing further conditions on a company’s licence or not renewing it.

Companies with licences up for renewal this year that received a one-year approval included Rogers (which owns Maclean’s), Telus, Shaw, MTS, Sasktel and Videotron.

Hutton said additional licences will come up for renewal over the next three years and could receive the same treatment.

The CRTC has the discretion to issue licences for periods up to seven years, he said.

But the one-year term shouldn’t be a surprise to the companies, Hutton said, as the CRTC made it clear ahead of its September hearing regarding the renewals that it planned to take this course of action.

Rogers spokesman Andrew Garas said in a statement that the company will be launching its standalone channel selection in the coming days, but did not address the new licence term.

Cogeco declined to comment, while Telus, Shaw, MTS, Sasktel and Videotron did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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