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Channel Bundling's End Could Mean ‘Only U.S. Channels' In Canada: Bell

As the Great Wireless War of this past summer cools off, Bell Canada has signalled it’s willing to get into another dispute with the federal government: This time, over the Tories’ plans to unbundle channels on TV.

Kevin Crull, president of Bell Media, told a telecommunications conference in Ottawa Monday that there will be “unintended consequences” if Ottawa goes ahead with plans to reform the cable and satellite TV business to allow customers to choose their own channels.

Crull said profits from channel bundles were used to fund investment in Canadian content, and unbundling could mean less money to support the homegrown TV business, iPolitics reports.

He also suggested there would be little savings to consumers.

“As we move forward in responding to consumers, we need to be clear that there is an inherent risk. When buying less, the unit cost is going to be higher and overall savings, if any, may be small,” Crull said, as quoted at the Globe and Mail.

“As well, variety and quality could decline – maybe dramatically.”

Crull even suggested the move could mean the end of Canadian channels.

“If we are only left with U.S. channels in Canada, don’t expect unbundling. They don’t allow it, they won’t do it,” he told the conference audience.

Many Canadian channels enjoy “mandatory carriage” under federal regulations, and the CBC is partially funded by the government, making it highly unlikely if not impossible for all Canadian channels to disappear.

Eliminating channel bundling was one of the consumer-oriented goals the Harper government set out in its recent throne speech, and last week the government took the first step on the policy, asking the CRTC, Canada’s telecom regulator, to prepare a report on the issue by April.

According to iPolitics, the government's review will include identifying ways to safeguard Canadian jobs and programs.

Some TV providers haven’t waited for government policy to unbundle channels. Nova Scotia-based Eastlink announced this past summer it was responding to consumer demand and offering pick-and-pay channels.

Telus already offers “some type” of pick-and-pay TV services, as do Bell, Cogeco and Videotron in Quebec, notes Canaccord Genuity analyst Dvai Ghose.

Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said recently that TV providers’ hands are tied to an extent on channel bundling because of the contracts they have signed with broadcasters.

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