Recently there has been a lot of talk about broadcast reform in Canada.  Here’s another argument as to why we need legislation to be more consumer-friendly:

A Personal Video Recorder (PVR, also known as a DVR) can be rented from $20-25/month, depending on your provider (Rogers $24.95, BellTV $20).  In the US, they cost $6 (Comcast, DirectTV).  Why so different? In the US, the FCC has consumer-friendly regulations in place that bring the cost of the PVR down to what it’s actually worth. In Canada, TV providers use the lack of regulation to force customers to pay exorbitant PVR rental fees.

Firewire ports are currently disabled on Rogers and Shaw cable boxes. Rogers may currently have it enabled on some boxes in Ontario only, it was enabled on boxes in New Brunswick until March 2009. BellTV and Shaw Direct receivers don’t even have Firewire outputs. Firewire allows for a digital HD (or SD) signal to be sent to a 3rd party PVR. Firewire can also allow your cable box to be connected to a computer so you can burn copies of your favourite shows to DVD. This is actually legal in Canada and covered under fair use rights. In the US, providers are required by the FCC to provide Firewire outputs on their HD cable boxes.

Another dirty trick is to encrypt the digital signal on the cable lines. In the US, they are required to keep the local channels unencrypted. In many places, all basic cable channels are unencrypted. This removes the need to rent a cable box completely; you can just plug your TV into the cable outlet and receive HD channels (as long as your TV has a QAM tuner). Here, we don’t even get the HD preview channel without a cable box.

The cable companies are using their near-monopoly position to shut out any competition for their PVRs. Unfortunately, government regulation is there to protect Canadian companies from foreign competition, not actually help keep Canadian companies from ripping off their customers. The only alternative is an antenna, but only if you’re lucky enough to be in an area that is required to have digital over-the-air service. Maybe it’s time to dissolve the CRTC.