The federal broadcast regulator is proposing a new code requiring television providers to give customers clearer information, and giving viewers a way to resolve disputes.
The draft code, announced Thursday by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, is a response to complaints from Canadians who said their cable and satellite companies often gave incomplete or misleading information and offered poor customer service.
It is also the final decision from Let's Talk TV, a sweeping hearing that has yielded major changes to the rules that govern the television industry, paving the way to unbundle television channels, relax Canadian content quotas and introduce American Super Bowl ads to Canada. And, like the rulings that preceded it, the proposed code is squarely focused on the viewer's demands.
"We are calling on Canadians to shape their relationships with their television service providers," CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in a statement. "Now is their chance to tell us."
The code would set standards for easy-to-understand agreements and changes to service between TV providers and customers. And it would "clarify" terms around adding or cancelling channels, early cancellation fees and installation appointments.
Before finalizing the new code, the CRTC wants public input on what information consumers want and what they consider reasonable time frames for notice of changes or service calls.
The CRTC also said Thursday that it is proposing to expand the mandate of the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) to include television services. Until now, the CCTS has handled complaints about Internet, telephone and wireless services but not cable or satellite television.
The Commissioner is funded by the telecom industry but acts independently of it. Its role is to recommend solutions to disputes between customers and service providers.
The CCTS said during the Talk TV hearings that it was open to taking over the administration of a television code and noted in its 2013-2014 annual report that it received 3,496 complaints about television-related matters that it viewed as outside its current mandate.
CCTS commissioner Howard Maker said in a statement Thursday morning that he welcomes the proposed change.
The proposed new rules are reminiscent of the national code governing the wireless industry that the CRTC introduced in June, 2013, implementing new rules around contract clarity and cancellation terms and capping monthly overage charges.
The most significant impact on the wireless industry was that the code effectively limited the length of contracts to no more than two years, forcing a shift away from three-year terms. This had the perhaps unintended effect of increasing monthly prices as the carriers said they had less time to spread out the cost of up-front subsidies on handsets.
Late last year, the CRTC also banned policies that required customers to give 30 days notice to cancel their TV, Internet or land line phone service.
In Thursday's release, the CRTC also said it is taking steps to improve accessibility to television programming for people with disabilities. It said by 2019, most broadcasters will have to provide described video for programs aired from 7 to 11 p.m. and by the end of this year, it will require television service providers to offer accessible hardware (set-top boxes and remote controls).