03/19/2015 01:05 EDT | Updated 03/19/2015 07:59 EDT

CRTC Orders Providers To Unbundle Channels, Offer 'Skinny Basic' Cable

UPDATE: The CRTC is ordering Canada's cable and satellite TV providers to offer a-la-carte TV stations as of December, 2016, upending the current cable business model of offering specialty channels in bundles.

"By December 2016, Canadians will be able to subscribe to channels on a pick-and-pay basis, as well as in small packages," the telecom regulator said in a statement released Thursday.

"In addition, Canadians will have the choice of keeping their current television services without making any changes, if these continue to meet their needs and budgets."

But the CRTC also ruled that TV providers must include all specialty channels in at least one channel bundle.

The Canadian Press reports:

GATINEAU, Que. — The country's broadcast regulator is coming out with new rules today that will require cable and satellite companies to offer customers a trimmed-down, basic channels package, sources have told The Canadian Press.

The cost of the so-called "skinny basic'' package is to be capped at $25, said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is to announce details of its decision later today.

The ruling is the latest result from the CRTC's Let's Talk TV hearings held in the fall.

The Harper government had pushed the regulator to allow for a so-called pick-and-pay system that would allow consumers to choose and pay only for the individual channels they want.

However, the CRTC hinted late last summer that it would be open to a pick-and-pay option built on top of a lighter mandatory service than what is currently being offered widely in the industry.

It's not clear whether skinny basic would be an all-Canadian service that includes local stations and provincial educational channels, or a service that includes American networks as well.

Critics including the C.D. Howe Institute have warned that any proposals to mandate pick-and-pay channel choices would be an exercise in futility, in light of technological change. They say it could harm the industry and actually end up costing consumers more rather than less.

The CRTC has been criticized — and taken to court — over recent decisions from the Let's Talk TV hearings, including a move to ban the simultaneous substitution of Canadian advertising for American commercials during the Super Bowl.

The regulator has also been both commended and panned for its decision to reform the rules governing the Canadian TV programming that goes to air.

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