Canada to Mandate Cable Channel Unbundling by Carriers

Critics argue introducing a pick-and-pay regime for consumers could spell the end of less popular local channels.

TORONTO -- The Canadian government on Wednesday said it plans to compel cable and satellite TV providers to allow Canadians to pick-and-pay for TV channels they want to view.

"Our government believes Canadian families should be able to choose the combination of television channels they want," governor-general David Johnston said as he read the ruling Conservatives' speech from the throne in Ottawa.

"It will require channels to be unbundled, while protecting Canadian jobs," the government added as it signaled its spending and legislation priorities for the coming year.

The proposal to allow Canadians to stop purchasing expensive packages of Canadian, U.S. and other foreign channels, and just buy the TV channels they want to view, comes as the Conservatives adopt a consumer-friendly platform to fend off growing support for opposition parties like the NDP and the Liberals.

"When Canadians make decisions about how to spend their money, they must be assured of a voice, a choice and fair treatment,” the feds said in the throne speech.

Domestic carriers have already moved to introduce a partial a la carte system for cable and satellite TV subscribers as Netflix Canada and other U.S. digital platforms increasingly draw Canadians online to view TV content.

But critics warn some Canadian TV channels will disappear and pricing for surviving channels will rise if they cannot be protected and promoted when packaged with more popular domestic and foreign channels.

"In a pick-and-pay environment popular U.S. services are likely to increase their carriage fees once they are no longer part of a package, while the smaller Canadian services will falter,” Friends of Canadian Broadcasting spokesman Ian Morrison said Wednesday.