Give a cable. Take a mile
Darrin called me this week. And he talked to me as if we were best pals, as if we’d known each other for years. I asked for an explanation.
“I’m Darrin,” he said, cheerfully. “from Rogers Communications.”
And I knew instantly this call was a pitch. I decided to listen to what he had to say, because my wife and I have been concerned about what’s happening to our cable TV service. As I’m sure most of you know, television programming has been delivered by independent Compton Cable since 1972. Their facilities, the head-end if you like, were located on Regional Road 21 near Utica, Ont.
Anyway, my alleged buddy Darrin called to tell me about all the new features Rogers Communications (which bought out Compton in 2011) has to offer. His well-rehearsed spiel went on about this rapid service, that movie feature, this sports package and that premium channel pool. And when he finally took a breath, I interrupted.
“Does that mean we lose our cable TV service?”
“In a few weeks,” he said, and away he went, “but with Rogers Ignite, you’ll have options for all your favourite programs and online services…”
“Wait a minute. TV gone,” I clarified, “unless I agree to the package?”
“The transition is easy,” he insisted. “We can bundle your television, your internet service, even your phones into one easy-to-navigate service … All for $97.99 a month.”
Again, I interrupted politely and asked what would happen if I already had internet and phone service delivered by say Bell Canada. And he blew by that, saying Rogers would just replace all that, and bundle everything I needed into one neat package. I hasten to add that my wife and I are equally suspicious of Bell, but have paid for their landline and internet services pretty much by default for many years. Then, Darrin repeated “the savings with Rogers’ $97.99 monthly rate” that would kick in when our cable service expired.
“Excuse me, Darrin,” I said. “Are you old enough to remember the Negative Option scandal?”
For the first time in about five minutes, there was silence on the other end of the line. In case you missed it, back in 1995, Canadian cable companies – including Rogers – offered 7.5 million subscribers seven new specialty channels for free for several weeks, indicating (in the fine print) that the cable companies would bill subscribers automatically, unless they opted to cancel. It was called Negative Option billing. And complaints went all the way to the House of Commons. As journalist D’Arcy Jenish reported in Maclean’s at the time, the reverse billing scam prompted about 4,000 Rogers subscribers to disconnect immediately.
“We made a mistake,” Colin Watson, then Rogers Cablesystems president, told Jenish. The cable companies got a slap on the wrist from the CRTC, ate crow, and delivered the said packages to consumers at a loss of $30 million.
Back on the phone with Darrin, I asked if Rogers had installed fibre-optic technology locally, the way Bell has over the past month. “If I abandon my Bell connection, where does that leave me?” I asked.
“Oh, we’ve got nodes everywhere in town,” Darrin said.
“Do you live here?” I asked. “How do you know I’m near one of your nodes?”
“Oh, they’re there, and Ignite 500 Internet has 500 Mbps download speed. It’s faster than Bell.”
I knew I was in over my head. I asked him to send me all the options by email. I’m not sure how typical my wife and I are as television viewers. We have selective tastes. She likes “Escape to the Country” on CTV Lifestyle. I like (so help me) Leafs hockey whenever it’s on CBC or TSN. We tune in to PBS and CNN for American news. But the one service that’s a must for us, is CBC. We support public broadcasting and journalism in Canada. But, it appears, unless we buy the Rogers Ignite for $97.99 a month, we’ll get none of those channels, including no CBC. Yes, I know we can get CBC on GEM via the internet service we receive from Bell; but interestingly, Bell, which owns CTV, does not include the main CBC TV channel in its service, just CBC GEM.
By the way, when Darrin emailed me the lowdown on all Rogers services, his message did not itemize any of the broadcast or cable services – i.e. CBC, CNN, PBS, etc. – we prefer. We had to go online and the combinations and computations defy logic. Which means our household will soon be without access to the public airwaves … unless I get out the 1950s rabbit ears or put a TV antenna on my roof. I don’t imagine my buddy Darrin could help me there.
For more Barris Beat columns, go to www.tedbarris.com