Toronto Life Writer Advocates Screwing Over Canadian Telcos By Stealing Content…. But He Has A Point

I came across this article in Toronto Life magazine where Jesse Brown makes a very interesting argument. Basically, Brown has stopped paying his local cable company and instead downloads movies and TV shows from the Internet illegally. Why does he do this? Simple:

Now, if I were living in the U.S., I would have access to legitimate services like the ad-based TV and movie site Hulu, and for-pay services like Amazon Video on Demand, Blockbuster on Demand, iTunes TV rentals, and the original version of Netflix, which offers a healthy selection of shows and movies. Between a Netflix subscription and various rental fees, an American with my viewing habits can sidestep cable, without becoming a criminal, for about $30 a month. But in Canada, all of these video services are “geoblocked”—visitors with Canadian IP addresses are weeded out and denied access. We now have a Canadian version of Netflix, but its library is a poor cousin of the original, with less desirable shows that tend toward the obscure (fans of Animal Planet’s River Monsters are in luck). Canadians are unable to rent TV episodes from iTunes, and instead must “buy” them at three times the price (Americans can watch this week’s Simpsons for 99 cents; we pay $3.49). Our own TV networks offer some streaming video online, but not much, and always through their decidedly lousy and hard-to-navigate Web sites. Again: if we want to have the most current and convenient selection, we have to steal it.

Oh, he’s not done. He goes on to say this:

So why can’t we get decent, legitimate Internet-based TV in Canada? The big telecom companies blame the sorry situation on licensing complications. Securing the digital rights for the Canadian market is a slow and costly process, but if we’re patient, they say, Canada will catch up eventually.

The truth is, there is little incentive for Canada’s television industry to get with the times. Canadian broadcasters choose to lag behind, and deliberately sit on the digital rights that are often thrown in by distributors who sell them broadcast rights to movies and TV shows. After all, why should a station like CityTV help Canadians watch 30 Rock on demand via a $7.99 Netflix-like subscription when we could watch it through a $64 cable subscription to Rogers, its parent company? Why not instead shun and starve upstarts like Netflix, or, better yet, actively sabotage them?

Recently, Rogers did just that. Two days after Netflix Canada was announced, Rogers drastically lowered customers’ monthly download caps. A popular plan offering 25 gigabytes of data was cut back to 15 gigs (roughly eight hours of HD video streamed through Netflix). By contrast, the giant American Internet provider Comcast provides 250 gigs under its cheapest plan. So while Netflix may seem a bargain to Canadians at $7.99 a month, if you’re on a 15-gig plan, once you’ve watched four movies you’ll pay $8 or so more per movie in “overage” fees—twice what it might cost you to rent a DVD. This could easily kill Netflix in Canada before it gains a foothold, and scare potential newcomers away from our market permanently. These are the kind of things that happen when your broadcaster and your cable company and your Internet provider are all the same guy. In a word, the problem in Canada is competition—or, more accurately, our lack of it.

Ouch. This has to hurt if you’re one of the big three telcos. Or maybe not. After all, with the oligopoly that exists here in Canada, innovation and competition are two things that Canada lacks. And judging from the numbers that Telus, Bell, and Rogers put up quarter after quarter, there’s big money in having no competition. So why innovate? Why have good customer service? Why give Canadians options about how they watch content? Why allow Canadians to choose the channels they want to watch in an À la carte manner (as opposed to their current practice of forcing expensive packages on consumers full of channels they don’t want to watch)? Clearly, none of this is required to stay in business.

Now, I’m not justifying theft at all. It’s wrong. But given the state of the Canadian telco market, I’m not the least shocked by people “cutting the cord”, even if it’s not legal. Jesse Brown may have made himself a target by his actions, but the point he makes is valid. There needs to be more competition in the Canadian telco market. That would bring innovation, which means lower prices and options for consumers.

Perhaps every Canadian should cut the cord?

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