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    Canadians Are Pissed Off At Cable Companies' New "Skinny Basic" Packages

    "They’re using every trick in the book to make these packages as unappealing as they possibly can."

    Last year, Canada's telecom regulator told cable companies they had to offer customers a way to get cheaper TV.

    Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS

    The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, instructed the telecoms to make basic cable packages "priced at no more than $25" per month. These deals would have all the standard Canadian networks like CBC, CTV, and Global. And if customers wanted additional channels, they could pay for them individually or as part of "mini-bundles."

    The whole point was to let people get the few channels they want without having to get enormous cable packages with hundreds of filler channels they never watch.

    Well, it didn't really work out that way. The "skinny basic" cable packages rolled out March 1 and they have not lived up to the hype.

    Getty Images

    The skinny bundles offered by most of the telecoms — including Bell, Rogers, and Shaw — don't include the cable box, which has to be rented separately for as much as $15 a month. Depending on the provider, there may also be extra service and installation fees.

    Additional channels on top of the basic offerings cost anywhere from $3 to $7, and even a handful of them can quickly bring the bill close to what people already pay for their traditional cable packages.

    The skinny packages can also be exempt from the bundled savings usually offered if a customer also has internet and phone service from the same company.

    “Clearly the telecom companies, and I’d single out a few in particular, aren’t getting into the spirit of these new rules,” said David Christopher, communications manager at the consumer advocacy group OpenMedia.

    “They’re using every trick in the book to make these packages as unappealing as they possibly can with a view to continue locking consumers into the expensive mega bundles with 160 channels.”

    So far the reaction to the new skinny packages has been one of disappointment — and anger.

    The selection of channels in the mandatory skinny cable packages are horrible. @CRTCeng #cdnpoli

    This is so disappointing. The big cable companies have made the @CRTCeng look rather foolish :( https://t.co/tupTLfDt7h

    So no one @ #CRTC gave any thought to restricting cable providers from designing "skinny" packages the way they did? @CRTCeng

    Among the major telecoms, Bell Canada has been particularly hostile to the changes. According to a CBC report, the company instructed its employees to downplay the skinny option to customers and it has the priciest and most limited skinny bundle on offer.

    Bell's skinny basic TV has to be the biggest FU from the company to the #CRTC (and consumers) I've ever seen. And there have been lots

    Bell's skinny package doesn't even include the main American networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and Fox — which have traditionally always been included in Canadian basic cable. Adding them costs an extra $5.

    "They're making the skinny basic package simply unbuyable," an anonymous Bell employee told CBC.

    A CRTC spokesperson told BuzzFeed Canada the regulator is "monitoring" the situation to make sure the telecoms are living up to the spirit of the new rules, but that it's too early to judge how well it's going.

    Chris Wattie / Reuters

    Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais has previously warned that the CRTC will step in if the companies are seen to be "disregarding the wishes of Canadians, our decisions and the spirit of the outcomes they were intended to achieve."

    The next step in the implementation of the CRTC's ruling will be later this year. Starting Dec. 1, cable providers have to make every single channel available individually to customers on a pick-and-play model, although there is no price ceiling on how much they can charge for them.

    Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B

    Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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