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Shaw Communications Pushes Former Cable Radio Listeners to Extra-Cost ‘Galaxie’ Radio Service

Phillip Dampier May 21, 2012 Canada, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Shaw 8 Comments

Shaw is ripping the wires out of its analog FM cable radio service, formerly delivered free of charge to all Shaw subscribers.

Shaw Communications’ plans to abandon its analog cable FM radio service, delivered free of charge to basic Shaw subscribers, has been met with resistance by customers who appreciated the improved reception the service delivered.

Some noted Shaw is eliminating the free service and replacing it with one that requires a digital cable subscription to receive. Shaw:

Shaw previously offered customers access to FM radio stations free of charge with their coax cable connection, as part of their Shaw service. Given that many of our customers no longer use these stations, we are in the process of removing this service across our systems.

Removing FM radio stations allows us to free up additional bandwidth, which means Shaw can deliver faster Internet speeds, increased High-Definition content and more Shaw Exo On Demand programming. This change is part of Shaw’s dedication to providing our customers with leading edge technology through our superior Shaw Exo network.

How can I access my radio stations?

There are a number of options for customers to continue listening to radio stations:

  • Most radio stations offer their services via online streaming. We have provided links to local radio stations’ websites to allow you to stream their programming online. You can access these lists below.
  • You can also purchase a radio transmitter at stores like Best Buy or Future Shop, which will allow you to tune into your favourite radio stations. These devices cost as little as $30 and require an Internet connection to receive any “out-of-market” services. Installation can be as easy as plugging in the transmitter into the “Audio Out” feed of your computer, and gives you access to thousands of stations around the world.

We also offer a number of commercial free radio stations through our Galaxie service – customers with a digital box have access to up to 55 channels to enjoy a variety of music styles and offerings. To learn more about Galaxie, visit: http://vod.shaw.ca/music/galaxie_player/

The problem with both of Shaw’s options, according to readers who have contacted Stop the Cap!, is that they come at an added cost.

“Shaw would love it if we streamed those radio stations, which all count against our bandwidth cap, instead of listening to them for free on the cable radio,” says Irene Delasquay from Prince George, B.C. “Galaxie is just a music jukebox service that requires you to buy a digital cable subscription and rent a box to listen, and I don’t want all that extra equipment and expense.”

Some wonder why Shaw is discontinuing the service in the first place. Shirley and Meg Bonney told the Comox Valley Echo:

When we finally we able to speak to a person at Shaw we were told that they “didn’t think that many people were using the FM frequencies”. Had they ever inquired? Had they even tried to find out? Or had they just made a biased assumption – perhaps to try to force people to buy their digital black box in order to access even more of their own, commercial music channels?

We were also told that the CBC frequencies were a “gift” from Shaw.

Many readers who have been in touch with Shaw are being told their best alternative is streaming radio signals over a personal computer, but that presents a problem for some who don’t have a personal computer, have located it in an inconvenient room to listen, or who do not want to waste electricity running a computer just to listen to the radio.

While cable radio is no longer common in many parts of the United States, the vast expanse of Canada combined with an often-insufficient network of low-powered FM repeater transmitters, has made reception of commercial and certain public radio signals difficult, especially inside homes.

Roger and Isabel Thomas feel the loss hurts their ability to stay in touch with informative programming long-abandoned by commercial stations and cable networks:

The FM service provided us with daylong (and night-time) enjoyable, culturally stimulating, commercial free listening. It kept us abreast of national and world-wide events and allowed us to enjoy our selection of favourite music, eclectic though it may have been.

Shaw Abruptly Terminates Cable Radio Service in B.C., Angering Customers

Shaw Cable has pulled the plug on its complimentary cable radio service on Vancouver Island, which used to provide enhanced FM reception of radio services from across the province and from the United States.

Listeners in the Vancouver area never received notification the service was being terminated, and a Shaw spokesman said the company did not bother because it was a free service delivered to cable customers.

Some listeners called the loss of more than 20 FM stations devastating, leaving them with as few as three clear stations, and no reception of CBC Radio 2 from Canada’s public radio network.

Kerry Hunt, Shaw’s regional manager for Vancouver Island, said the company is phasing out the FM radio service in order to increase Internet speeds and make room for additional digital cable channels.

“Nobody is installing FM anymore,” Hunt told Canada.com. “It’s just a service that is very rarely even being used.”

Gone for some B.C. listeners

Hunt called cable radio anachronistic in the digital and Internet age, and those customers who value the service are now being pushed to use Internet streaming services, offered by many of the stations listeners lost. But those streams count against the company’s Internet Overcharging usage caps, and with many of cable radio’s fans among the less-computer-savvy elderly, the expense to add broadband service to continue listening to radio stations they used to receive for free is a hardship.

Cable radio service is a legacy service, originally introduced in the 1970s and 1980s to provide enhanced radio service to cable-TV subscribers over cable-wired FM receivers. Some cable systems delivered national radio superstations, college stations not available over the air, or distant regional radio signals not well received by cable subscribers.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission used to require all Canadian cable operators provide the service, converting all area AM signals for FM reception. Those rules have been considerably relaxed, and today most cable operators deliver the bare minimum, including one CBC Radio service, over its set top cable boxes.

Shaw says it plans to gradually discontinue cable radio service across its entire coverage area.

Shaw, Cogeco Customers Exposed to Gay Porn During CHCH-TV’s Morning News

Phillip Dampier April 26, 2012 Canada, Cogeco, Consumer News, Shaw Comments Off on Shaw, Cogeco Customers Exposed to Gay Porn During CHCH-TV’s Morning News

CHCH-TV in Hamilton, Ontario.

The cable industry seems to have an increasing problem keeping adult entertainment on the right channels.  Just a week after Colorado viewers were treated to an XXX-rated wakeup call during Good Morning America, cable viewers across western Canada and parts of Ontario got an eyeful of gay hardcore porn for several minutes Friday during CHCH-TV’s News Now AM morning news.

The unwanted programming, which also turned up in public viewing areas such as airports and diners, caused more than a few to put down the Tim Horton’s coffee and pick up the phone.

The Hamilton, Ont. television station initially got the blame. So many Canadians were talking about it, the station became a trending topic on Twitter.

“Just eating some pancakes this morning watching #CHCH … I no longer like pancakes or the news,” wrote Twitter user @derek1913.

“We were stunned at first, and those of us who could see it just stopped talking and tried to absorb what we were seeing,” says Joan Kelling, a Stop the Cap! reader who saw the spectacle on an airport restaurant’s televisions. “A few moments later, people were pointing and laughing nervously, everyone was getting on their phones, and some employees were hurriedly trying to switch off the sets.”

Kelling says the scene she saw was particularly explicit.

“It went on and on,” Kelling says. “Gay or straight aside, parents will be answering questions over this one.”

So will Shaw and Cogeco Cable, who were responsible for treating viewers to the racy movie in the morning.  CHCH didn’t wait for a blow by blow explanation from either company before taking to the air with an apology.

“First of all, we would like to apologize to our viewers,” said CHCH news director Mike Katrycz. “This was a problem that originated, not at CHCH, but at a cable company. Apparently some cable lines had been cut, and in the splicing back together some inappropriate content went to air. Again it was beyond the control of CHCH, but we do apologize to our viewers.”

Cogeco, Shaw Cable, and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council have all launched independent investigations into the matter.

Canadian Telecom Giants Outwit Would-Be Cord Cutters; Alternatives Also Under Pressure

Canadian cable, phone, and satellite providers have done a better job stymieing would-be “cord-cutters” than their counterparts further south in the United States.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) annual report on the country’s telecom companies shows all of them remain exceptionally profitable, keeping pay TV customers far more effectively than American providers. Total revenues climbed from $12.5 billion to $13.5 billion in just one year, as price hikes, Internet Overcharging schemes like usage-based billing, and lack of competition continue to takes its toll on Canadian wallets.

The biggest winners were the biggest telecom companies in Canada — Rogers Communications, Bell Canada (BCE), and Shaw Communications, which all saw profits soar 8.2% to $11 billion.  Costs increased about 10.7% in 2011, fueled by network upgrades and rampant hikes in programming costs — an interesting state of affairs considering Rogers and Bell own or control a substantial number of the programmers demanding higher payments.  Most of those increases were passed on to customers in the form of rate hikes.

Although Canadians are increasingly interested in streaming online video, virtually every major Internet Service Provider in the country has effectively prevented customers from dropping cable television service in favor of broadband-only access.  They manage it with usage caps and usage billing on their broadband products.  With streamed video accounting for a substantial drain on customers’ monthly usage allowances, Canadians are unlikely to cancel cable TV in favor of watching all of their favorite shows online.

In fact, the number of Canadian households that subscribed to a cable company’s basic television service actually increased by 2.8% in 2011 to reach 8.5 million.  Experts say the country’s transition to digital over the air television may account for some of that increase, but a few high broadband bills with overlimit fees for “excessive Internet use” can effectively drive online video fans back to traditional cable TV as well.

Satellite television in Canada remained flat,  with a virtually unchanged 2.9 million Canadians relying on Bell and Shaw satellite service for television entertainment.

But everyone is paying more to watch.

In 2011, cable companies paid $2.1 billion in wholesale fees to the pay and specialty services they distribute, an increase of 10.2% over the $1.9 billion paid the previous year. The fees paid by satellite companies rose by 2.8% in one year, going from $894.4 million to $919 million.

That leaves vertically and horizontally-integrated conglomerates like Bell in the perfect position to extract higher programming payments.  Those costs are passed down to Canadian consumers and blamed on “greedy programmers,” despite the fact those programmers are owned in part or outright by Bell.

A Rogers retail rental store

Rogers is also well-suited to remain a part of the Canadian entertainment experience.  The company owns cable systems, wireless phone networks, programmers, and even home video stores. However Stop the Cap! reader Alex notes Rogers has been closing a number of those video stores over the past few months.

“This gives customers one less choice for renting movies, basically forcing them to use Rogers On Demand instead,” writes Alex.

Rogers On Demand comes with a higher price, too.  In-store rentals from Rogers are priced at 2 for $9 or 3 for $15.  A recent look at Rogers’ video on demand website, Rogers Anyplace TV, shows most movie titles priced at $4.99 each.  With Rogers closing 40 percent of their retail rental outlets, movie fans have had fewer competitive choices for movie rentals.

One potential new contender coming to Canada – kiosk video rentals.  Although services like Redbox are now commonplace in the States, they are virtually unknown in the north.  Jim Gormley, former owner of Jumbo Video is back with Planet DVD.  With just 2% of Canadians renting movies from kiosks, Gormley believes there is plenty of room to grow, especially as Rogers scales back its video rental business.

Planet DVD has a pilot project running with supermarket chain Sobeys to place kiosks in front of nine store locations.  The first kiosk was erected in early March in front of a Sobeys store in Mississauga, Ont.

A new release at a Planet DVD kiosk is priced at $3 for a one-day rental.  That’s less than what most video stores charge, but more than double what Americans pay at a Redbox kiosk.

Want Better Canadian Broadband? Move West

If you want better Canadian broadband with fewer tricks and traps and live in Ontario or Quebec: put the house up for sale, pack up your things, and head west.

Canada’s heavily metered and capped broadband is ubiquitous in the country’s two most-populated provinces where a convenient duopoly of Bell and Rogers in Ontario and Bell and Videotron in Quebec control the vast majority of the broadband market.  But cross west into Saskatchewan and things start to look a lot better.

Canadians telecommunications consultancy The Seaboard Group praised SaskTel, the provincial phone company, for refusing to slap usage caps on its customers.  SaskTel does not deliver the cheapest Internet access by any means, but the company is investing heavily in fiber optic upgrades to turn the page on aging copper wire infrastructure.  Stringing fiber through Regina, Saskatoon and beyond may seem counterintuitive to other providers.  Saskatchewan, one of Canada’s “prairie provinces,” is hardly packed with people.  With more than 20 million Canadians living in Ontario and Quebec, Saskatchewan gives its 1 million residents a lot of open space.  Sparser populations usually translate into higher costs per customer for upgrades, but SaskTel persists.

SaskTel has historically relied on traditional DSL and has competition in larger communities from Shaw Cable, western Canada’s largest cable operator.  Although SaskTel’s DSL delivers lower speeds than Shaw can provide, it does so with no usage limits.

Shaw’s decision to provide considerably more generous usage allowances has kept the pressure on SaskTel to upgrade its infrastructure to compete.

SaskTel CEO Ron Styles told the Leader-Post its fiber optic network will give cable a run for its money, and until then, it is satisfied undercutting cable pricing for broadband, delivering a far better experience than either Rogers or Bell provides eastern Canadians, Styles says.

Seaboard president Iain Grant found that what customers are willing to pay for service can also influence what prices providers charge.

“The price is more based on what you’re prepared to pay,” Grant said.

People in western Canada evidently are not willing to hand over as much money as their friends in Ontario and Quebec.

West of Saskatchewan lies Alberta and British Columbia — Telus territory.  Telus is western Canada’s largest phone company and also principally competes with Shaw Cable.

Shaw has forced Telus to back down on fueling enhanced revenue with usage caps of its own, and has been aggressively upgrading its network with additional fiber optics and DOCSIS 3 technology, forcing Telus to embark on its own upgrade effort.

Macleans reports western Canada’s more-competitive broadband market has been good for consumers, but has also exposed a difference in priorities for providers.

With Shaw breathing down its neck, Telus has committed to a $3 billion fiber optic network expansion in B.C., improved wireless coverage, and more IPTV service.  Macleans notes Telus is the only major telecom or cable company in Canada that hasn’t purchased a television asset, focusing instead on its core businesses of connecting customers.

In eastern Canada, Bell faces Rogers and Videotron.  Critics contend Bell sees no imminent threats there, and the phone giant is spending its money elsewhere, announcing a $3.4 billion acquisition of Astral Media — an entertainment company owning 24 specialty cable channels and pay-TV networks, including the Movie Network and HBO Canada.

Bell’s latest “investment” follows its 2010 $1.3 billion buyout of CTV and last year’s $1.32 billion co-purchase of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (the other buyer was their ‘arch-competitor’ Rogers Communications).

While Telus spends money on upgrading its broadband and video services to customers, Bell is positioning itself to control 34% of Canada’s TV universe.  Bell is also the same company that advocated slapping nationwide usage-based pricing on Canadian broadband consumers to pay for the “network upgrades” it contends were needed to handle increasing demand.

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