I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Canada’s Own Evil Empire?

Most of the blogs I write are born in a news story or an event that grabs my interest and all but twists my arm forcing me to write something about it. This one is different. This blog is the result of an accumulation of upset that has taken years to come to terms with. I ask you, anyone who reads this column, is there a huge corporation in Canada that is more anti-consumer than Rogers?

Let me start with the easy stuff. Rogers brought the mobile phone industry to Canada, does anyone remember Cantel? They created a mobile telephone system that was ludicrously expensive and then created fictitious fees to gouge their customers even more, fees that we are still paying, for services that do not exist and never have. Sure Bell and Telus came along afterwards and jumped on board to overcharge Canadian consumers, but it was Rogers that created the pricing policies that make this country one of the most expensive in the world to own and operate a cell phone.

Canada was a leader in creating cable television. We were the first country in the world to use this system for disseminating TV signals. Many Canadians have a short memory about this industry. In fact Rogers bought into the industry, they had little to do with creating it. What Rogers added was higher prices and the inability to chose the stations you wanted. They bundled services so that if you want The Movie Channel, you have to buy a whole whack of stations you may not have any interest in. Worse, if you want Turner Classic Movies, you have to pay the big bucks for The Movie Channel to get it. It’s been close to two years since they promised the CRTC that they would give the consumer the choice to pay for only the stations they want, yet nothing has happened. The Rogers people gift to Canadians: little choice, higher prices and if I may add here, long telephone waits and poor service.

I will only mention Rogers internet service in passing. Canadians pay way too much for internet service, again, amongst the highest in the world. And, if that’s not enough Rogers has added insult to injury by using throttling to slow their service when it gets busy. You pay for fast service, but Rogers slows it down on purpose. While U.S. companies race to install fibre optic wire to help make their service better and quicker, Rogers uses old fashioned coaxial cable that in many cases is as much as forty years old. They claim the high prices are to increase bandwidth and new technology…where do we, the consumers, see the results of that money?

Don’t get me started on their television services. In a previous blog, The Rape of CITY-TV, I discussed how Rogers ruined one of the most unique and innovative television franchises anywhere. When was the last time anyone noticed CITY-TV? They also own Rogers Sportsnet. This started as a regional sports network with four channels, each aimed at a different part of the country. Then the tricky bastards at Rogers added Sportsnet One, put a lot of the most watched content on the new station exclusively and made us pay more to see the channel. Rogers also owns Omni, the multicultural channels with bases in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
What did they do with those licenses? First they got rid of most of the multicultural content and replaced it with cheap U.S. game shows and sit-com reruns. They do news in Italian, Chinese and Hindi and run some movies in those languages but they produce very little else. What you may not know is that when you see a Russian show, an Arabic show or any other minority show, the minorities buy the time from Rogers and then have to find their own advertising dollars to pay for their work and what they owe Rogers for the airtime. Many actually lose money to provide their poor communities with a service while Rogers makes millions off them and billions in total.

Rogers also owns the Toronto Blue Jays. They should be embarrassed by their involvement. They have managed to turn the largest market for any single baseball team, 33 million in Canada and 5.5 million in the Toronto area into what they call a small market. Year after year they have underfunded the Jays, in fact the Jays’ budgets are the same today, about $60 million U.S., as when Rogers bought the team. What that doesn’t take into consideration is that the Canadian dollar was at 65 cents when they took over and is close to par today. That means they are actually spending 30% less today then they spent when they bought the team. No need to ask why the Jays have never gone to the post-season under Rogers’ ownership, the answer is all too obvious.

Now Rogers wants a piece of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, TFC, etc. Here they see an opportunity to parlay ownership of the teams into television content for their channels. If past performance is any example of future performance, don’t plan for any parades on Yonge Street…ever.

Over the decades Rogers has set the example of greed and gouging that has been seen and followed by the folks at Bell, Shaw, Telus and the rest. They could have been leaders in customer service, competitive pricing, quality television and performance excellence. They never chose those routes. All they have ever shown an interest in was maximizing their bottom line at the expense of their customers.

Who do I blame? Ted Rogers of course, but I also blame the CRTC and the Canadian government for allowing them to get away with the worst of their actions. How could the CRTC allow them to create phony charges for cell phone service? How could the CRTC have allowed prices to grow out of all proportion to other countries? How could the CRTC change their own rules to allow cable companies to own television stations? How indeed?

The people who ran and run Rogers should be ashamed of what they have wrought. The CRTC should be ashamed of what they have allowed to pass. Finally, successive governments of Canada, both Liberal and Conservative should be ashamed of standing by while the CRTC allowed Rogers to gouge the Canadian public.

I invite anyone from Rogers who wants to rebut anything to contact me. I will make space available to them to explain their side. I’m sure all Canadians would like to hear any explanation from Rogers.

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Filed under: Media Commentary, Political Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lie to Me…the CRTC says it’s okay

Anyone who has paid any attention to the rulings, musings and operations of the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission can be excused if they are confused and amazed. Every time I think the CRTC can’t get any worse, they confound me and most fellow Canadians with something crazier than they have ever considered before.

Believe it or not the CRTC has chosen this time to suggest a loosening of the rules that demand truth and accuracy in radio and television news. I know, I know, the first question is why the heck would anyone want less truth and less accuracy? Especially in the days of Fox News and all the havoc that they have wreaked on the American public.

Stacey Hannem Assistant Professor, Criminology Laurier Brantford wrote this in the Brantford Expositor:

The CRTC is currently in the process of proposing changes to its regulations for news media which prohibit the publication of “false and misleading” statements in the guise of “news.”
Under the proposed changes, media outlets would be prohibited from broadcasting statements that they know are false and misleading statements only if said statement also “endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.”
Let’s get this straight. This means that the CRTC is willing to allow media outlets to broadcast known falsehoods as news; that is, opinion, slander, and outright lies, as long as they think it won’t hurt anyone.
I ask you, how do they know which lies will be harmful? Can they predict which lies will cause unnecessary stigma, divisiveness in communities or between ethnic groups? Can they predict which lies will cause unnecessary fear among the public? Can they predict which lies will cause Canadians to vote in ways that they might not otherwise and completely change the political and social trajectory of our nation?
How can they define or predict the harm that will be caused by the publication of lies as news?

So far as I know, nobody, no organization has publicly asked for these changes. It is possible that some broadcasters have secretly demanded the right to be less than honest in their reporting, but I am sure they would never make this request publicly. Why? Simple, because then we would all know or be free to conclude that the broadcaster that requested the changes was willing to lie or bend the truth and the result being that the broadcaster would lose all credibility and hopefully all their viewers or listeners.

So I ask again why? Without any obvious explanation one has to wonder about the fact that the new right wing talk and all-news station is about to hit the airwaves this year. Will the new rules allow them to emulate Fox and publish inaccurate stories? Fox is still questioning President Obama’s birthplace even though the facts have been clear for more than two years. Is this unfair to the new television station? Perhaps it is, but pundits and analysts are scratching their heads trying to figure out where this came from and they are looking for the obvious when no other explanation is forthcoming from the CRTC. One Toronto Star letter writer put it this way:

It is bad enough that the CRTC is allowing a politicized Fox-like station to mount its operations in Canada, a country so admired for its standards of truthfulness and values that should not be undermined.

We are the country that should be emulated, not lowered to the standards of others. It is worrisome that the CRTC would contemplate watering down the requirement of broadcasters to air factual – not misleading information.

Janet Denton, London Ont.

Janet gets it even if the CRTC does not. But that’s not all the CRTC has been up to. Konrad Von Finckenstein’s mates have decided that Bell and Rogers are not making enough money from their internet services. Hey I know we all feel sorry for the poor sods at Bell and Rogers. It’s tough to keep squeezing more billions from consumers when there are so few new services they can offer.

So Bell and Rogers, I presume, got together with Konrad and his pals at the CRTC and came up with a great plan. Let’s allow the big internet providers to charge based on usage. We’ll call it “usage based-billing” and we will let Bell, Rogers and Telus force it down the throats of all their customers, especially the small ISPs (Internet Service Providers) who buy access for their service from the big boys. We’re not talking about small changes either. One company, Tekksavvy, which allowed its customers to use 200 gigabytes per month has advised its users that they will only be allowed 25 gigabytes from now on. That’s 1/8th for the same price. Where does that leave their customers? Canadian internet subscribers will be paying more for less in the future. That means any small company, hey, any large company, that depends on or uses the internet will have its costs driven up substantially. Guess who will end up paying for that in the end? Too easy. Us. The consumers.

Here we are in a country that already sees us paying way more than our competitors in the U.S. for mobile phone services and the internet and what does the CRTC do? Allow the corporate giants who are already making huge profits to gouge us for even more.

Peri Maric of Vancouver said all that has to be said in a letter to The Globe and Mail:

It’s a repugnant corporate money grab, sanctioned by the federal government, directly aimed at exploiting…our citizens, the most active national internet community in the world.

The mandate of the CRTC, I checked their website, clearly states that they are supposed to “serve the Canadian public.” It also says, “the CRTC works to serve the needs and interests of citizens…” Yeah right. When does that start happening?

Maybe the time has come to reform the CRTC or completely replace it with an agency charged with the primary responsibility of protecting consumers. The telephone companies and the cable companies already share very close to a national monopoly on all forms of communications and they are expanding their holdings with the help of the CRTC. Their power needs to checked not enhanced by the federal government.

Filed under: Media Commentary, Political Commentary, , , , , , ,

About the Author

Howard Bernstein is a former TV producer. He has worked at CBC,CTV, Global and has produced shows for most Canadian channels as an independent producer.

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