Tag Archives: Bell Canada

CRTC questions Bell TV’s community programming practices

Four years after the CRTC found Videotron failed to comply with its obligations related to community television programming, the commission is taking a very critical look at Bell Canada’s community TV services, with questions suggesting it is concerned Bell is inappropriately redirecting funding that was supposed to go to community TV in small Atlantic Canadian communities toward large productions out of Toronto and Montreal that are essentially spinoff shows of commercial productions that air on Bell Media TV channels.

In a notice of consultation posted last month, the commission published applications for licence renewal for Bell Fibe and Bell Aliant TV services in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Quebec. The applications, which include 42 documents, shows repeated rounds of questions over two years about Bell’s community TV operations, which operate under the Bell TV1 brand (formerly Bell Local).

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Videotron: We’re fibre too!

The latest indication that Videotron is feeling the heat from competition by Bell Canada is that it has rebranded its Internet packages to include the word “fibre”.

Now, rather than “High Speed” or “Ultimate Speed”, the packages are being referred to as “Fibre Hybrid”. This term reflects the fact that, while the telecom company has 30,000 kilometres of fibre-optic cable, the cable that actually gets into people’s homes is still the same coaxial copper cable that’s been used for cable TV for decades.

Such a setup, in which the backbone is fibre-optic but that last connection to individual homes is a conventional line, is called fibre-to-the-node or fibre-to-the-neighbourhood. It contrasts with fibre-to-the-home, in which fibre-optic cable actually goes all the way to a person’s home, giving them access to very high data transfer rates and room to grow.

Bell Fibe, which isn’t even five years old yet, has been spreading in Montreal, offering for many the first non-satellite alternative for cable TV and high-speed Internet. We don’t know exactly how many customers it’s stolen from Videotron, but we do know that the powers that be at the Quebecor-owned company are very nervous.

Because fibre-optics is so central to Bell that it’s even in the name of the fibre-optic package, Videotron apparently decided it wanted to make sure everyone knows that it too uses fibre. Ads in newspapers boast that Videotron had a fibre network before Bell set one up.

But Videotron’s network, and much of Bell’s, isn’t really fibre. It’s FTTN, not FTTH. And both of them will need to come up with something even more buzzword-worthy when they do bring fibre right into people’s TVs. (Bell has some FTTH customers, but many with “Bell Fibe” don’t have fibre entering their homes.)

As these two companies continue their pissing contest, La Presse’s Jean-François Codère did a comparison between Bell and Videotron in terms of Internet packages. Bell comes out slightly better in some areas while for others you’re better off with Videotron (assuming Internet speed and download caps are all you care about.

It would be nice to say healthy competition is forcing both Videotron and Bell to put consumers first, but Bell just told clients it’s dramatically increasing its prices And Videotron booting its prices is a yearly occurrence.

Maybe we can just amuse ourself in the assumption that if it weren’t for competition, those price increases would be higher. But don’t hold your breath hoping for more. Cogeco just announced it’s abandoning its plans for an IP-based data link to residential subscribers, saying it’s too complicated.

Bell Let’s Talk Day: “This is why we do it”

Bell Let's Talk national spokesperson Clara Hughes in an interview with TSN Radio in Toronto (Bell Canada photo)

Today is Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, a day in which Canada’s biggest telecom company raises money to help treat mental illness, and helps bring the issue out into the spotlight at the same time.

Until midnight Pacific time, Bell is donating five cents for every long-distance call and text message sent using its network, as well as every (non-robot) retweet of its Twitter account, to this charitable cause.

I was reminded of this campaign when I watched CFCF’s noon newscast today. It was hard to miss it. Half of the first 15-minute block was devoted to it, with a story by a local reporter profiling someone with mental illness, and an interview with the campaign’s spokesperson, Olympian (and national sweetheart) Clara Hughes.

It didn’t stop there. Later, a health news story about the potential causes of suicide (probably a coincidence because the study just came out), a sit-down interview with an expert on mental illness, and a chat with reporter Tarah Schwartz about a special report on depression airing on Thursday. That’s not including the commercials devoted to the subject and all the other programming that’s airing on CTV, including a special at 7pm.

A year ago, I asked similar questions about this campaign, and whether the perfectly laudable cause justified the apparent intrusion of Bell Canada into the editorial decisions of CTV’s newsrooms. (One could argue that many have simply decided to join this cause without being ordered to, which is possible, but there’s a reason we’re not seeing as much coverage of this on CBC and Global, and do we really think it would get so much airtime on CTV if this was, say, a Telus campaign?)

There are also questions to be asked about Bell’s motives in this. Every large company puts profit ahead of anything else, and it makes sense for a company whose reputation is as poor as Bell’s to spend millions of dollars making it seem more human. And it sends the message that if you really want CTV News to pay attention to your cause, no matter how positive it is, you need to get Bell onside.

But rather than rehash all that, I’ll share an email that was forwarded to me by someone from Bell Media, who I’m guessing saw my tweets critical of the campaign today or was directed to last year’s blog post. It was sent from a viewer of CTV’s Marilyn Denis show, which also devoted segments to mental health today, including one on postpartum depression.

He added only: “This is why we do it.”

I’ve redacted the person’s name since it’s not important.

Subject: Thank you thank you thank you

Hello Marilyn

My name is ***, mother of 4 girls 8,6,4 and 5 months.

I started my last pregnancy with depression and it is becoming a giant battle!

I feel darker and darker and the show today made feel good and thank to CTV, let’s talk day. It is good to know that I will talk and search for help.

What a show thank you again.

There are a lot of thing behind my depression, I have in Canada for 17years no status, with 4 children provide a good life. Being a great mother and wife. Keeping on packing weigh. Being there sometimes became a burden etc….but I do it because I love my family.

Well I just wanted to say thank to you and CTV for this day Let’s talk.

I never wrote to a show but the one today saved my life.

By the grace of God!

There are worse reasons to abuse one’s power.

Is selling out okay for a good cause?

Clara Hughes is the spokesperson for Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign to raise awareness about mental illness

Let’s talk.

The phrase, and the face of Canadian Olympic star Clara Hughes, are all over the media today in a campaign organized by Bell Canada. It’s planning to spend $50 million over five years on this program, and today it’s giving five cents for every text message and long-distance call by a Bell customer to mental health initiatives.

To promote this, the campaign has pulled out all the stops, and has … partnered … with news organizations to spread the word. CTV, which Bell is in the process of purchasing, has devoted just about everything it can – including TSN and MuchMusic – to the campaign, forcing each one to mention it somehow. Hughes has been doing non-stop interviews today. She was on Canada AM. She was on CP24’s breakfast show. She was on the Marilyn Denis showShe was interviewed on CFCF. And that’s just daytime. There’s an entire channel online devoted to this stuff.

And, of course, during the actual commercials, Hughes appears again – over and over – in ads paid for by Bell talking about the campaign.

It doesn’t stop with CTV, though. My own newspaper The Gazette has two pages devoted to this subject today, one of which has a giant ad featuring Hughes and the Bell logo. I’m sure it won’t be hard to find other examples in other media.

Fighting mental illness is a laudable goal. No one with even a trace of a soul can stand up and say they oppose this campaign. I salute Hughes and Bell for their efforts, and wish the campaign success (though I’m not quite sure what that would mean – they’ve already said they’re spending $50 million over five years, so are the donations in excess of that, or did they just estimate how much it’ll cost them? UPDATE: The money from this event – more than $3 million – was in fact in addition to the $50 million they’d already pledged)

This also isn’t the first time that a big, rich company has bought news for a good cause. Newspapers often have pages devoted to issues chosen by advertisers. They have various names for this, referring to them as “partnerships” or “joint ventures”. “Directed content” is my favourite term. A step beyond the advertorial, the content is presented as news, it doesn’t talk about the advertiser directly, and the advertiser has no say in the content of the news pieces themselves, other than their subject.

Oral B and Listerine sponsor coverage of oral care. Big oil companies sponsor articles about the environment to greenwash their image. Banks and other financial institutions sponsor entire sections on the importance of RRSPs. It is, in the eyes of the publishers and advertisers, a win-win: the news outlet gets much-needed advertising money, the advertiser gets to see its logo all over the place, and the issue gets public exposure.

The only drawback is the crumbling wall between editorial and advertising. The precedent is established that an advertiser can get all sorts of journalistic outlets to contribute to its campaign, provided it’s for a good cause (or something that can be interpreted as a good cause), and that big media companies will use the power of convergence to please those advertisers, if given enough money.

Most importantly, it means that issues advertisers want to bring up – whether because they want to appear charitable or because it is in line with their business interests – get more exposure than those nobody wants to spend money on. People who want their causes to get news coverage are better off pleading to large corporations’ marketing departments than to journalists. And good luck getting anyone to pay attention to a cause that puts one of those big corporations in a bad light.

To be clear, I have nothing against this cause. Bell is spending a lot of money it could have just as easily given to its shareholders or spent on ads lauding its services. I don’t think the good PR that will come from this will bring in more than $50 million in new subscribers. And I hope the campaign is very successful and helps a lot of people.

But I think it sets a bad precedent when a company like Bell can simply dictate to all its divisions, including news, that a certain topic is covered on a certain day. It’s hard not to think of that as a slippery slope.

UPDATE: A response from Bell worth reading. And another blog post that goes a bit farther than mine, suggesting this is more of an advertisement for Bell than a campaign for mental health.

The convergence utopia

An updated chart can be found here.

It probably doesn’t matter to most people that Bell Canada’s parent company BCE announced on Friday that it was buying 100% of CTV. Bell already owned 15% of it, and had previously acquired CTV back in 2000 as part of a similar convergence play.

Ah, convergence. It’s been the buzzword in the big media companies for the past decade or so, with all the acquisitions that have taken place. Bell, a phone company, started up a satellite TV service, a DSL Internet service, and got into the broadcasting game in one giant swoop by acquiring CTV the first time, along with a growing number of TV specialty channels.

Rogers, which had a head start on the convergence business being a broadcaster, cable provider and wireless company, added a baseball team, other cable and wireless providers, and broadcasting assets including the sloppy seconds of the CTV/CHUM acquisition.

Quebecor, once a commercial printer and newspaper owner, bought a TV network, a cable and Internet service provider, and an entire newspaper chain.

Canwest, once a small television broadcaster, built up a national television network, bought a high-profile newspaper chain and a media company with a truckload of specialty channels. Now it in turn (minus the newspapers) has been bought up by Shaw, a cable provider that acquired a satellite TV provider.

With Shaw’s acquisition of Canwest and Bell’s acquisition of CTV, a pattern is emerging where each of the corporate empires has a TV provider, a wireless service, an Internet service, a national broadcast network, TV specialty channels, and maybe some radio and print assets on the side.

Shaw Quebecor Bell* Rogers
TV network Global TVA, Sun TV CTV, A Channel CityTV/OMNI
TV provider Shaw Cable/Shaw Direct Videotron cable/Illico Bell TV, Bell Fibe TV Rogers Cable
Internet Shaw Internet Videotron Bell Internet Rogers Internet
Wireless (Coming in 2011) Videotron wireless Bell Mobility, Virgin Mobile Canada Rogers Wireless, Fido, Chatr
Home phone Shaw cable VOIP Videotron cable VOIP Bell Canada Rogers home phone
Newspapers None Sun Media, Osprey Media Globe and Mail (15%) None
Other print None TVA Publications Report on Business Magazine Rogers Publishing (including l’Actualité, Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Canadian Business)
Specialty TV DejaView, Fox Sports World Canada, Global Reality, MovieTime, Mystery TV, TVtropolis, BBC Canada, BBC Kids, Discovery Health Canada, DIY Network, Food Network Canada, History Television, HGTV Canada, IFC Canada, National Geographic Channel Canada, Showcase/Action/Diva, Slice** LCN, Argent, addiktv, Yoopa, Les idées de ma maison, Prise 2, The Cave (51%) Business News Network, Comedy Network, CTV News Channel, TSN/TSN2, RDS, RIS, ESPN Classic, Discovery Channel (and related networks), BookTelevision, Bravo!, CP24, Comedy Gold (80.1%), FashionTelevision, MuchMusic (and related networks), Space, Star! Biography Channel, G4 Canada (66.67%), OLN, Rogers Sportsnet, Setanta Sports Canada (53.33%), The Shopping Channel
Radio None** None CHUM radio network (about 35 stations including CKGM Team 990 in Montreal) About 50 stations
Online publications None Canoe.ca Sympatico.ca 12 assets, including sweetspot.ca
Other TVA Films, Archambault, Super Club Videotron The Source Toronto Blue Jays, Rogers Centre

*For the purpose of this chart, we’ll assume that the Bell purchase of CTVglobemedia goes through as advertised.

**Many people point to the Shaw family’s control of Corus Entertainment to suggest that Corus is unofficially a subsidiary of Shaw Communications. But if you think that way, you can add a bunch of specialty channels and radio stations to the Shaw column.

Filling the holes

Rather than worry too much about a telecommunications company wanting to spend billions on media assets when just about all media assets are falling in value, the business world is wondering: What’s next? Where is the next big acquisition or merger that puts a fifth column on that table?

Telus is the big name on everyone’s lips, because they have the audacity to just be a telecom company at the moment and therefore have a “content gap”. But Telus says they won’t get in this game.

Besides, there are other options. Just connect the dots as you like:


  • Telus (wireless, home phone, TV, Internet)
  • EastLink (cable, Internet)



Telecom and broadcasting

There’s also plenty of regional telecom companies, small newspaper publishers, book publishers and specialty TV channel owners that can be scooped up and disappear into the large conglomerates.

How this screws us over

“Today our three largest cable competitors are fully integrated and clearly we are not prepared to buy our content from our competitors”

That quote comes from a conference call that Bell had shortly after announcing the deal to buy CTV. The basic premise behind this deal isn’t that CTV is going to make Bell a lot of money by being a profitable business unit, but rather that CTV’s content will be a bargaining chip to get people to use Bell’s services.

Recently, Rogers launched a new TV channel called Sportsnet One. Even though it’s only available on Rogers cable (it hasn’t negotiated carriage on the other providers yet), Rogers decided to move Toronto Blue Jays games to Sportsnet One in order to get people to subscribe to the new channel. Since Rogers owns the baseball team, the television channel and the cable provider that carries it, it’s the ultimate convergence play.

And it’s royally screwing over Blue Jays fans.

Analysts don’t think Bell will be using blackmail to get people to switch over to its services. But they could. Want to watch NHL games on your mobile phone? You can’t unless you’re with Bell. Want TVA shows on demand? You can’t unless you have Videotron illico. Anything these companies can buy exclusive rights for, they will do it. The only things keeping them from forcing you to subscribe to a particular telecom in order to get some content are the CRTC (which doesn’t regulate mobile or online content) and business models that see more profits in maximum exposure than short-sighted consumer blackmail.

It’s not out of the realm of possibilities for one of these companies to pull some move that, like Sportsnet One, requires using a particular service to get something that used to be widely available. And if one company does that (and it’s successful), the others would probably follow. We could be a couple of years away from a country where you need to buy redundant services in order to get the content you want.

Save our local TV from … us?

Remember that “Save Local TV” campaign by the broadcasters who wanted us to convince the CRTC to force the cable and satellite companies to give money to TV broadcasters? And the corresponding “Stop the TV Tax” campaign from the cable and satellite companies to pressure the CRTC the other way? Well, since that campaign, Shaw took control of Global TV and BCE is about to take control of CTV. Quebecor, which owns both TVA and Videotron, didn’t participate in either campaign.

Bill Brioux remembers those campaigns, and is particularly pissed that a TV network with a “broken business model” just sold for billions.

They’re still arguing against each other at the moment, but how long can we expect that to last?

And there’s other concerns too. John Bowman points out that there’s little incentive to invest in quality broadcast equipment. And Iain Marlow suggests this may make it easier for the government to relax foreign ownership restrictions.

This kind of stuff will come up at the CRTC hearings into the takeover, though I’m doubtful that the commission will put up a major roadblock to it, despite opposition from opponents to media concentration.

It won’t work … or maybe it will

The biggest negative opinion about this deal is the simple argument that CTV won’t be a profitable venture for Bell any more than it was a decade ago. That’s what David Olive says, it’s what Howard Bernstein says, and Torstar (which sells its stake in CTV) is playing this up as a win for them, as is the Globe and Mail, which is breaking off (mostly) from the empire.

To be fair, some like the Globe’s Derek DeCloet believe this might make sense, pointing out that the price isn’t as ridiculously high as it was 10 years ago. Other analysts agree.

One of those sides will be proven right in a few years. Let’s hope, for the sake of consumer choice and healthy corporate competition, that bigger isn’t better.

Bell solves TV crisis (not)

OK, someone’s going to need to explain this one to me, because it doesn’t make any sense.

Conventional television broadcasters (CTV, Global, TVA, TQS and CBC/Radio-Canada) are pleading with MPs and the CRTC for the ability to charge cable and satellite distributors for fees to carry their channels. Their argument is that the advertising model has failed them, and they require a second revenue source to pay for all those local news stations and transmitters. They also say it’s unfair that specialty cable channels get subscriber fees. (Why am I paying money to networks that air non-stop Seinfeld reruns packed with ads anyway?)

Since the distributors would undoubtedly pass these fees onto their customers (despite their billions of dollars in profits), this would effectively mean that Canadians would be forced to pay for television channels that are broadcast for free over the air.

On Wednesday, Bell, whose Bell TV is one of two direct-to-home satellite services legally operating in Canada, announced it had come up with an “innovative” solution to this problem, that wouldn’t cost consumers extra, would help broadcasters and more importantly not hurt its own bottom line.

That solution is “freesat”, a system where some over-the-air television channels would be beamed to homes via satellite for free. Bell would be happy to provide this service if it meant they didn’t have to do this fee-for-carriage stuff. (It’s also easier to convince people to sign up for paid satellite service when they already have the equipment.)

So there you go, a win-win-win solution. Right?

Oh wait, not right, because this doesn’t solve anything.

Bell seems to believe that the financial problem of television stations is their upcoming transition to digital transmission. While the purchase of digital transmitters is a nontrivial problem – the CRTC’s estimate is that it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars – and it has led to the decision to shut down many retransmitters, that’s not what the broadcasters are complaining about. Their argument is that the cost of local newsrooms and local programming is too high to be paid for with advertising alone. Bell’s idea would not solve this problem.

Its financial uselessness isn’t the only flaw in Bell’s Freesat plan, as Digital Home also points out. Among the others:

  • Freesat would require users to purchase satellite dishes and decoders from Bell, at a cost much higher than a simple over-the-air digital-to-analog converter. One of the main reasons people don’t have cable or satellite is cost, so the people who would need this are also the people least likely to afford it.
  • Not everyone has a home that can accommodate a satellite installation.
  • Bell’s satellite service doesn’t carry all local conventional television channels (like, for instance, Global Quebec). This wouldn’t change under Freesat. So viewers would actually lose channels. Not to mention that the decision of what channels we’d have free access to would be Bell’s alone.
  • This proposal ignores the fact that there’s a second satellite provider in Canada. How would StarChoice fit into this? Would it also have to provide free channels?

I have my issues with the transition to digital. I’ve already argued against it, and still believe that there’s plenty of room to move existing stations out of the higher channels (say, 50-69) and auction off those frequencies. Digital television would make a technology that’s been used for more than half a century obsolete unnecessarily.

Freesat is worse. The equipment is bulkier and more expensive, and it doesn’t give all local channels. It’s the worst of two worlds.

Oh by the way, if “Freesat” sounds familiar, it could be because it’s the name of a real free-to-air satellite TV service in the U.K., or because Bell is recycling this exact same idea from a year ago.

Nice try, Bell.

The Source by Bell

The Source outlet in Eaton Centre downtown

Bell Canada, which apparently has lots of money to spare, has decided to buy up The Source, the overpriced electronics retailer which used to be Radio Shack and whose parent company went bankrupt in November.

Coverage from, well, everyone: Globe, Star, CBC, Forbes, WSJ, Reuters, Digital Home

Bell says it plans to use the outlets to hawk Bell merchandise like Bell Mobility cellphones (once the exclusivity contract with Rogers ends this year) and Bell TV satellite service.

The deal seems to make perfect sense, as both companies offer crappy product, have horrible customer service, charge way too much and yet survive because people who don’t know any better recognize the brand.

Any bets on whether Bell will fix the many fundamental problems with The Source’s business model?

Bell wins throttling case

Bell Canada has won a case that went to the CRTC about peer-to-peer throttling.

In April, the Canadian Association of Internet Providers complained to the CRTC because Bell was using traffic shaping techniques to slow P2P traffic on both its network and the networks of DSL Internet resellers (because of Bell’s telephone monopoly, it is required to sell wholesale net access to companies at government-set rates).

The CAIP argued that this was unfair and unnecessary. Bell argued the opposite.

The CRTC took Bell’s side on the case, in a decision which is pretty well uninteresting otherwise. The only caveat: Bell will have to inform its resellers at least 30 days in advance of similar changes in the future.

Despite the apparentloss to net neutrality advocates, Michael Geist says it’s not the last word on the subject, and there’s still hope.

UPDATE: Geist has some quick reactions from Bell and the CRTC.

Another gigantic waste of money from Bell

Bell billboard on St. Jacques St. West

Bell billboard on St. Jacques St. West

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve been exposed to ads in print, television, online, outside, in the metro and elsewhere from Bell Canada, which recently changed its logo, dumped its beavers and has launched a massive ad campaign to … introduce their new logo, I guess.

As if to underline the pointlessness of the redesign and the ad campaign, Bell first put up anonymous ads in the metro, with little slivers of the logo. I’m sure some marketing genius thought that would get people’s attention (they certainly bought enough space to get noticed). But really, nobody cared enough to look into it, gossip about it, or put the ad puzzle pieces together to figure out their source. (Well, almost nobody).

When the ad campaign launched, it introduced taglines in both French and English. The French version is “la vie est Bell,” which is a cute but obvious pun. In English, the taglines all end with a bolded, coloured “er”, as in “today just got better“, which makes no sense and has no connection with Bell.

Combined with ads for Telus’s Koodo service, expect to be bombarded with cellphone-related advertising, expecially in the metro.

Bell is also heavily promoting the Samsung Instinct, which it paradoxically promotes as both the “hottest phone of the year” and an “Apple killer” (sorry, “killer“), all with a straight face, in a desperate (and desperately transparent) attempt to show that not having the iPhone doesn’t make Bell executives cry at night.

But the worst part for Bell customers: Every one of the millions and millions of dollars spent on advertising, marketing experts and website designers is a dollar that is not spent improving customer service, lowering rates or expanding the network.

La vie est Bell, indeed.

Blogosphere PR is a waste of money

The Gazette today has an essay from Mitch Joel (so great they published it twice), republished and edited from a blog post, about how media has changed and companies should monitor the blogosphere and respond to people’s complaints as if they were news articles.

Joel’s essay makes several very valid points, about how Google can bring a critical blog post about your company into the limelight, and about how the media is spread out and includes a lot of online outlets.

But his conclusion is wrong. It makes little sense for big companies to care what bloggers say about them. And the reason is quite depressing: Customers don’t care about crappy customer service (at least until it happens to them).

Just look at Bell Canada. Their Mobility wireless and Sympatico Internet brands have by far the worst customer service reputation in the country, which is not an easy feat. (Imagine a company that responds to a service collapse by shutting down their customer service department temporarily.) Blogs and message boards are filled with complaints, vows to never do business with them again. CEO Michael Sabia lies through his teeth that customer service is their “number one priority,” but nothing seems to change.

And yet, ironically on the same day this article is published, we hear that Bell Canada’s wireless division is seeing soaring profits, in part because of new people signing up for wireless service. The article talks about how Bell has to focus on keeping and obtaining customers, and “increasing profitability.” Michael Sabia doesn’t mention “customer service” once.

Why is this? How could a company with the worst service be getting more people signed up?

  1. Customer service is expensive. And the better it is, the more expensive it is. Human resources are always the most important part of any large company’s bottom line. The more they can save on these positions, the better off they’ll be.
  2. One person doesn’t mean much to a big company. In fact, if you’re the kind of person with a complicated situation who’s going to spend a lot of effort fighting them on it, you’re probably the kind of customer they don’t want. When a company has millions of customers, it really doesn’t matter if one gets screwed.
  3. Few people have serious problems with service. While most people have had to deal with customer service reps once or twice a year, the vast, vast majority of customers use the service and pay their bills without talking to anyone at the company. The very few who have serious problems, bad enough to warrant a blog post, are considered acceptable losses.
  4. Everyone does it. Don’t like Bell Mobility? Who are you going to switch to? Telus? Rogers? They’re not much better. There’s an de facto industry standard of great sales but horrible service that everyone reaches eventually. And the few customers Bell loses to Rogers because of customer service nightmares will be offset by customers Rogers loses to Bell for the same reason.
  5. Customers care about price, not service. There’s a reason we buy all our crap from China, get the cheap imported fruit from the grocery store, eat at McDonald’s and shop at Ikea for borderline-disposable furniture. It’s cheap. And in the battle for cheap vs. quality, cheap will win almost every time. Lots of people check price lists but very few look Google customer service stories before choosing a service provider.

Complaining about customer service in blogs or the media does tend to work. Mike Boone and Jean-François Mercier both got Bell to solve their problems after going public with them.

So by all means, blog about your problems, because they’re more likely to get solved that way. But don’t expect the company to change the way it does business just because you’re unhappy. It’s easier for them to give gold-plated service to a newspaper columnist or two than to hire three or four more full-time customer service reps for the rest of us.

Much as we’d like to think that top-notch customer service is good for the bottom line, looking at the industry clearly shows the opposite. It’s like environmental-friendliness: Better to do something symbolic yet meaningless (like change your packaging’s colour to green) than sacrifice profits to make a difference.

Having a few bloggers trashing your company is just part of the game. Fixing their problems on an individual basis might help some people feel better about your company, but it’s not going to help your bottom line.

And any unnecessary expense that doesn’t increase profit is a waste of money.

TWIM: Griffintown and telemarketers

This week’s Justify Your Existence features a slew of “urban planning geeks” who met a few weeks ago to discuss the proposed redevelopment of Griffintown, a sad-looking area just south of downtown. They met at the behest of A.J. Kandy, who runs the Save Griffintown blog and lives in nearby Little Burgundy.

Proposed Griffintown redevelopment

They’re not opposed to the project necessarily. It would revitalize the area, be entirely privately-funded, and provide a lot of housing (social and otherwise). But they’re concerned about its proposed size, which would put an entire neighbourhood under the control of a single real estate company, and some measures they think will encourage car use and discourage pedestrian traffic. (Big box stores like Wal-Mart, for example, take forever to walk around and provide nothing but a brick wall for most of its street-level facade.)

They prefer a mixed environment that’s seen all over downtown Montreal: Commercial establishments at street level, with housing above. They also want more consultation with residents, a promise not to expropriate land, and a cookie.

(UPDATE Dec. 30: Kate mentions formatting problems. Unfortunately, The Gazette hasn’t been able to steal Chimples away to run their copy-paste online operation … yet.)

(UPDATE Dec. 31: AJ has a post on Save Griffintown going into more detail about where they are now.)

(UPDATE Jan. 4: I totally missed it (and I think everyone else did too), but coincidentally in the same issue, J.D. Gravenor interviews Griffintown residents Chris Gobeil and Judith Bauer about their place. Both were part of the urban planning geeks and Gobeil is quoted in my article.)

Also this week is a bluffer’s guide to Canada’s Do Not Call registry. Bell was awarded the contract to run the list (as the sole bidder), and now we’re left wondering if the fox is guarding the chicken coop. The list, which will be free and binding on telemarketers who aren’t charities, politicians or newspapers (haha, suckers) is to be up and running by Sept. 30, 2008.

UPDATE (Jan. 23): Chris Gobeil and Judith Bauer have an op/ed in Le Devoir about Griffintown’s future.

Bell Canada, our Do Not Call overlords

Bell Canada has been awarded the contract to manage Canada’s anti-telemarketing Do Not Call list.

Because when you think “customer service” and “convenience,” the name “Bell Canada” inevitably comes to mind.

No doubt the Bell Canada-run Do Not Call list will be fast, efficient, error-free and in no way a nightmare for thousands of Canadians stuck in customer service hell.

Oh, and the reason Bell won the contract? It was the only bidder.

Can you feel the irony biting you in the ass?

Internet providers have better things to do than monitor my bandwidth

Le Devoir has an article today claiming that Bell and Videotron deliberately ignore unusual increases in clients’ Internet bandwidth usage which might tell them that someone is gaining access to their connection without their knowledge.

The logic is simple: They can see clearly when bandwidth usage goes up, but they don’t warn the customer because they profit heavily off bandwidth overage charges.

Thing is, I’m not terribly convinced that’s the answer.

First of all, there’s an assumption that Internet Service Providers like high-bandwidth users. But they don’t. They hate peer-to-peer networks and other bandwidth-intensive activities. The vast majority of Internet users are well below their monthly quota, and the difference between the two is free bandwidth the companies are not eager to give away. There’s also the problem that a high-bandwidth user will slow the connections of other users on the network.

Secondly, I have no reason not to believe the providers’ PR-clouded appeal to their own laziness. They say they don’t have the resources to check every account for unusual activity (and if they do for one customer, they’ll be expected to do it for all). They’d have to hire tons of new people just to do this (and they won’t, of course; they’ll just pull people off technical and customer service). They’d have to do it on a schedule more often than once a month (because that’s when people are billed for excessive bandwidth use), and that’s really not feasible.

Similarly, the comparison with credit card companies and banks is a bit silly. These organizations deal directly with money, which is very important. You might get charged $30 for maxing out on bandwidth for one month, but it’s hardly the end of the world.

Finally, this isn’t an exact science. An increase in bandwidth usage might mean someone’s stealing your Wi-Fi, or it might mean your grandson is over for the holidays and is playing Halo 3 all day. And how many Wi-Fi leechers really run up the bandwidth meter anyway?

Just my two cents. (That doesn’t put me over the limit, right?)