Monday, September 20, 2010
Evil Canadian Empires
Back in my Brooklyn days, getting cable TV was about as easy as finding piles of hundred dollar bills in random shopping bags. After much kicking and screaming and fighting with Cablevision, my favourite New York cable television entity, technology came to my household in August, 1989. This was after years of living vicariously through people whom I knew, living outside New York City, who had been enjoying Sportschannel, CNN and MTV since their inceptions. Living in New York City, well within range of over-the-air network television signals, meant that we lagged far behind the rest of the state, which didn't have that luxury; unless you were privileged enough to live in Manhattan, with access to Manhattan Cable and all the freakish public access channels. Alas, I was not so lucky.
I spent close to 20 years complaining there was nothing on television, despite the hundreds of channels I had access to. Now that I no longer have a top-of-the-line cable system, I am lost without it. Yeah, I still have cable, but access to premium channels like HBO are prohibitively expensive here in Canada. Why? As the title of this post explains, the two biggest providers of cable (or satellite in Bell's case), Bell Canada and Rogers Communications, are extremely adept at fleecing the Canadian population, charging outrageous amounts of money for premium television channels, as well as high-speed Internet, mobile phone service and even land-line phone service.
Since I've been living in Toronto, I've had major run-ins with both companies. When I first moved here last year, I entered into an agreement with Bell's offshoot mobile phone company, Solo, for a plan I was told included long distance minutes to the US, as part of the monthly charge. After 10 days, my service was cut off because I had exceeded the "spending cap" they had placed on my account, because the charges for the long distance minutes I'd racked up exceeded the amount of credit they were willing to give me. It took me over a month to get a straight answer from anyone, which ended up coming from someone at a Bell Canada corporate office here in Toronto. I was allowed to break my contract, since I was so obviously mislead by an inept sales rep who erroneously told me my long distance minutes were included in the charges. That sent me scurrying to Rogers Communications, who graciously offered me an iPhone 3G for less than the going rate, because I purchased a high-end package which includes long distance service to the US, a data plan for Internet access, unlimited texting, and a mobile Internet device for my laptop. All told, Rogers gets close to $200.00 a month out of me for all this; but this relationship has also been fraught with lies and miscommunication. My plan includes free talk time on nights and weekends. I was clearly told that this included long distance to the US. Of course, I made a point of talking to my friends and family in the States during the allotted "free" periods, until I received a bill one month for close to $300.00. After scraping myself off the floor, and sifting through the details of this bill, I noticed that I went over my allotted 500 long distance minutes, and was charged 35 cents a minute for every call over and above that limit. I was flabbergasted, and seething. I placed a call to Rogers, and thankfully, the excess charges were waived, but I was again misinformed about the long distance situation. This seems to be an issue with all the Canadian service providers, whereas in the US, they've been long been offering unlimited calls to Canada and across the US, in their upgraded packages. Here in Canada, you still have to purchase your US long distance minutes separately, at a pretty hefty cost; usually about $25.00-$35.00 extra per month. Why is this the case? Well, the reason, these usurious thieves claim, is because Canada does not have the population to support more reasonable charges for these services. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you; in Brooklyn.
The charges are so high because idiots like me are willing to pay them, and they're pretty much the same at the smaller companies like Telus and Fido. Recently, more competition entered the market, but the long distance plans are just as expensive. This is nothing more than an across the board cash-grab.
As for the cable television services, I'm afraid the same applies. Right now, basic cable is all I can afford; even the same, high-definition digital cable box I had in the US, which was free with the high-definition cable plan I had, costs almost $500.00 here in Canada. And, the premium digital channels, such as HBO Canada, and Canada's The Movie Network, which shows many of Showtime's and Starz's original programming, are extra. So, in total, mobile and land line phone service, high-speed Internet and premium cable/satellite, is about a $450.00 a month expense. If I were a smoker, I'd rather light my cigarettes with that money, instead of giving it to these thieving bastards. At least I'd be contributing to my own demise, instead of lining someone else's pockets. And I remain unconvinced that the fact that Canada's population is 1/10th that of the US is the reason. They charge what they charge because they can, and that excuse is a biggest load of malarkey I've heard since Glenn Beck landed at Fox News.
Last night, I missed the premiere of HO's newest blockbuster series, Boardwalk Empire. I've missed a year of Real Time with Bill Maher, and a bunch of other programming I used to watch religiously. That doesn't mean I'm not glad to be living here in Canada, but it's never been more obvious to me how life is full of so many little trade-offs. Television is just a small part of life for me, but when it's intelligent television I'm missing, that pisses me off. I'm not saying Canadian television doesn't have its share of intelligent programming, but I really can't help feeling deprived. It's a small price to pay for all the advantages I have here, but I still wish I could have the best of both countries on my television. Hopefully one day I will; then, I'm sure I'll find something else to bitch about.