66,000 sign up for $25 basic TV, but consumer group says complaints abound

Over the past five weeks, 66,000 Canadians have signed up for the new $25 basic TV package, according to a statement today by the CRTC.

The broadcast regulator, which mandated that TV providers offer the package, did not compile the data itself. Instead, the CRTC asked telecoms such as Bell, Rogers and Shaw Communications to report their basic package subscriber numbers.

Although 66,000 may seem like a big number, as of Dec. 31, 11.49 million Canadian households subscribed to cable or satellite TV. If all the 66,000 basic package subscribers were already TV customers, that would mean 0.57 per cent have embraced the new deal.

"It's really not very many," comments Bruce Cran with the Consumers' Association of Canada.

Still plenty of complaints

Cran adds that regardless of what the uptake is, he can't ignore the hundreds of Canadians who have contacted his association, complaining about the $25 basic plans.

"What we care about are the complaints and the dissatisfaction we see out there, and that's in the hundreds of calls," says Cran from his office in Vancouver.

When the CRTC announced the upcoming basic packages last year, the broadcast regulator billed them as game-changing, a way "to maximize choice and affordability for Canadian TV viewers."

The commission had mandated that by March 1, service providers must offer a "skinny" basic TV package for $25 or less. They also had to let customers top up the plan with individual pick-and-pay or small channel bundles.

Many Canadians who were hoping to sign up have since reported they now feel let down.

Both the Consumers' Association and the CRTC have received hundreds of complaints about the new offerings. Cran said one of the main beefs is that once TV customers add the additional required fees and a few extra channels, the cost of the $25 package can skyrocket.

"It adds up to, if they fulfil their ambitions, they'd be paying more than they are now," he says.

New poll suggests discontent

A new Angus Reid Institute poll reflects this sentiment. It suggests that most respondents found the new $25 basic package unappealing.

According to the online poll, surveying 1,513 Canadians earlier this month, 68 per cent said the new basic plans aren't worthwhile because of the extra costs often added to the packages. These include anything from a TV box rental to costly added pick-and-pay channels.

The survey also reported that of the 17 per cent who looked into switching their service to the basic package, 66 per cent said they were displeased with the new option.

Despite the discontent, Angus Reid points out that "there seems to be considerable appetite for change." According to its poll, half of respondents were unhappy with their current TV plans. Roughly the same number also thought the general concept of basic TV with added pick-and-pay channels is a good one.

Consumer group plans action

Cran believes many TV providers are purposely making the basic packages unattractive, because they don't want customers paring down their TV plans.

He says his organization has tried to discuss the consumer complaints with the CRTC, but so far has had no success.

Cran reports his organization is now exploring possible action it can take to convince the CRTC to re-evaluate the mandated TV packages.

"We feel that consumers deserve better than what we're getting. We deserve to have our concerns heard and dealt with," he says.

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