Goodbye, Mr. Williams

 

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You know a person has touched people deeply and often – by using the gifts they were born with – when the mediasphere suddenly stops and almost universally covers that person’s death… regardless of how tragically meaningless said death was.

Even the White House made a statement in regards to Robin William’s death.

When Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton eventually O.D. from whatever party drugs are in vogue at the moment, sure the media will blurb about it over the course of the day, but people will collectively shrug while TMZ treats is like a national emergency.

I’m sad that such a vibrant and often brilliant man had come to a point in his life where he thought there was no other escape but through the veil to whatever exists after this mortal coil – but in some ways, I don’t think there could have been any other outcome to Robin’s life: when a person has such a manic and larger-than-life energy, you could hardly imagine the depths of the inevitable lows when all the laughter ran out.

In our daily lives, there are certain universal constants that we all assume will be there the next morning after we go to sleep – and the presumption that Robin Williams would always be there with a movie (regardless of how shitty or uninspired the plot might be) or TV show or stand-up comedy special was something most of us were guilty of.

In some ways, Mr. Williams was the toy that we forgot we had: the one that slowly creeps to the back of the bedroom closet until, one day, your parents come along and toss it in the trash because they never see you play with it  – and the very next day, you remember you had that toy and go to play with it… only to feel the guilt and sorrow that comes from the realization of all the fun possibilities that you’ll never get to make good on.

Robin had surely felt the lack of love on our part since we had lost interest in the trademark zaniness that had been pasteurized and shaped into a formula by studio focus group testing – which is both our own fault for not embracing edgier material, as well as not holding studios to a higher standard with our hard-earned dollars.

As with all suicides, both of the celebrity kind and that of regular everyday people whom you know personally, we don’t realize how much someone means to us until they’ve gone – leaving us all to gaze inwards at ourselves and wonder why we didn’t do more to make that person understand that they had people who loved them dearly.

The prevailing wisdom on the topic of suicide is that it’s “a permanent solution to a temporary problem”, but those who are in the dank pit of depression completely lack the perspective to make that kind of differentiation – which means that all of us have a moral obligation to make sure that we help them find the path back out into the light… and it’s something that we’re woefully inept at since most of us are all too caught up in our own little lives to be bothered with helping a fellow soul out in their time of need.

If Mr. Williams had been able to witness the outpouring of love and admiration that came after his death today (well, yesterday since it’s now after midnight as I write this), I’m absolutely certain that he would have been able to get through the darkness that was consuming his troubled soul.

While unnatural celebrity deaths are one of the unavoidable truths of Hollywood, they fall into a few different categories.

The first is accidental: where a celebrity meets their end due to forces mostly beyond their control – like when Paul Walker met his end in a car wreck… and while these events are sad, they fall in line with the rules of the universe.

The second is accidental drug overdose: where the party-hard lifestyle of Hollywood’s A-list crowd collides with the vicious downside of the illicit drug trade – but that downside is always a possibility since there are no strict quality standards for illegal substances, nor are you always going to be able to use appropriate judgement of how much drugs you can safely take while you’re under the influence of drugs… which is a lesson we learn from the death of someone like Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

And then we have the third, the celebrity suicide: the last, pathetic cries of a usually washed-up actor or actress who has pissed away their fortune and alienated the Hollywood establishment by either generally making an ass of themselves in public forums or signing on to any piece of drivel that comes along in order to make some quick cash so they can fuel their own self-destructive tendencies with shit tons of alcohol or street drugs.

Having reached rock bottom, these former celebrities stick a shotgun in their mouths at a seedy motel and pull the trigger, which generates a few headlines due to our collective morbid curiosity about such things.

But I don’t think Robin Williams was anywhere near has-been status, nor could he have been conceivably poor since he surely still makes plenty of coin through royalties on past hits – as well as having been recently the star of a network television series, regardless of how well it was or wasn’t  received by critics and audiences alike.

In many of today’s articles written after his death, it was revealed that Robin had been fighting substance addiction… which I suppose would be almost unavoidable given his manic personality, but it also underlines one of the facts that we at home overlook: actors, actresses, music artists, and sports celebrities are still human beings – and if any of us mere mortals were to endure the kinds of pressure these people do in their highly performance-oriented lives, many of us would crumple under the weight of endless demands.

I say that last part not to excuse the alcoholism or pill dependency that many celebrities develop, but to simply understand that each and every human being needs some downtime where they are free from worry or stress.

In the end, I truly feel for Mr. Williams’ family who have been left with both a gaping hole where their loved one used to be and a three-ring media circus that will spend the foreseeable future scrutinizing Robin’s life in the months leading up to his suicide in the supposed search for answers, but mostly just to sensationalize the final few sad and lonely moments of an apparently broken man.

 

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Farewell, SGU.

I’ll freely admit that I was near tears when the episode faded to black after watching Destiny’s hyperspace trail disappear into the stars.

“Poor Eli,” was all I could muster.

And for a moment, every episode of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate Universe that I could remember played in reverse order – right back to Jack O’Neil sitting on his boat before Daniel asks him to come back to the SGC.

As much as it hurts those non-haters in this crowd, the franchise did deserve a rest – 13 or so years of constant production is almost unparalleled in TV history outside of soap operas (which are also dropping like flies).

Outside of Star Trek, what genre series has come even close? And, no, Doctor Who doesn’t count because it went out of production for a spell – unlike ST:TNG, DS9, Voyager, and eventually Enterprise… which had been in production from 1987 thru to 2005.

But back to Stargate.

The end of SG on Syfy is all about dollars and cents, and not a lack of faith in the producers – a move to service the dumb-as-rocks viewers Syfy and their new Comcast overlords want to chase with advertisers in tow.

The only space opera left is the BSG: Blood & Chrome – which goes back to the tried and true “shoot ’em up” that makes the CroMags (tee hee… name check) happy, and thusly lifts the spirits of each advertiser that will want to shill Budweiser, Cheetos, and Snuggie For Pets.

As many have pointed out in various forums, Syfy should change their slogan to “Check Your Brain At The Door’… so a series that requires a little thought would naturally get shit canned.

It was funny: a few nights ago, I was watching 28 WEEKS LATER after a number of years and was amused to see Robert Carlyle in it – and couldn’t keep from making Rush jokes to myself.

And that’s how it will be for the time being – us at home seeing SGU and other SG actors in shows made after and before the SGU cancellation and wondering…

Wondering whatever became of their SG alter egos  – of all the dramas, plots, and character developments.

We can only hope that the time between now and the time SG comes back to us will be filled with SGU comics, novels, and other licensed tie-ins.

At least then we’ll know what happens to Eli.

Me, personally? I think he’ll let Ginn out of her computer stasis so it can be just the two of them until the lights finally go out.

How The Canadian Population Just Got Raped

…And we’re not even allowed to feel dirty about it.

The Canadian Radio and Television Commission today ruled against the tax paying public in favor of the Canada’s two privately-held national broadcasters.

Assuming that the Federal Court of Appeals doesn’t rule against the CRTC in the coming  months, each and every Canadian citizen that has to subscribe to a cable or satellite television service will now have to pay the long discussed ‘TV Tax’ come 2011.

Why does that matter?

$10 may not seem like a lot of money when it’s going to support Canadian networks – but it really is when you consider most Canadians already pay approx. $80 a month for their service – meaning they’ll be paying $90 come January.

In Ontario, this is doubly worrisome.

Come July 2010, all of Ontario’s cable/satellite subscribers will have  to pay an additional 8% on their subscription bills due to the blended HST kicking in – bringing that bill closer to $97 in January.

Getting back to the ‘TV Tax’, some of you are saying it’s okay because that $10 per person is going to go towards more local and Canadian content.

Nope.

On the same day as announcing the TV Tax, the CRTC also dropped the minimum requirement for Canadian Content hours to zero and mandating that the total CanCon percentage drop from 60% to 55% – meaning your local TV station can carry 5% more episodes of C.S.I.

The only good thing – and I say ‘good’ loosely – is that the CRTC declared that CanWest Global and CTVGlobemedia (CTV) must spend 30% of the money they take in on Canadian produced material such as news programs, public interest programming, etcetera.

An additional 5% of the network revenue must be spent on programs of ‘national interest’ – which translates to Canadian-based dramas, telefilms, and documentaries.

So in some ways, Canadians have made gains in the things they watch, but are being penalized for that privilege.

The glaring issue here is that the CRTC has once again sided with Big Canadian Media without at all listening to Little Canadian Taxpayer – which is a hallmark of the party currently controlling the CRTC’s strings: the Stephen Harper Conservatives (and I made that distinction on purpose).

Steve Harper and the assorted cronies that he’s put in charge of the plethora of Canadian governmental institutions have all come from business backgrounds and are more than happy to sell the country out to private interests.

Never in the history of Canada has Big Business had such an advantage over Small Taxpayer – especially in the media sector.

From the signing on to ACTA behind closed blast doors, to letting the networks rape our pocketbooks – there is no company or industry’s ‘special interest’ lobbyist that Harper won’t invite into the Prime Minister’s Office in that most vaunted of buildings in Ottawa.

With Harper seeing that the Liberals are polling neck and neck with the Conservatives, Steve has to know that the next election – which is going to be sooner than later – is probably not gonna work out for him and his associates.

Which means that now is the time that he needs to sell out the country before it’s too late

It’s a FIRE SALE, folks!

Everything must go!

…Must go to the country’s billionaires, that is.

What can you do, John Q. Public – other than vote the bastards out of office next election?

Nothing, really.

You know… other than bend over, grab your ankles, and let Big Canadian Media sodomize you without the courtesy of lubricating first.

Did you really expect anything else from this guy?

Dear Bell Canada: We Hate You

All of us across Canada have been taking part in a mass experiment for the past 17 days or so.

This experiment was called The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Why is that an experiment and what does it have to do with Bell Canada?

Dear reader, I will tell you ‘cuz that’s just what kind of blogger I am – always looking out for those who don’t know.

For those of you out there who live in countries that are not named Canada, a little background is needed here.

The official Canadian network of the 2010 Olympic Games was CTV – one of only 3 national Canadian networks – and was the only Canadian source of Olympics broadcast over it’s hydra-esque collection of stations: CTV, TSN (The Sports Network), MuchMusic (the Canadian alternative to MTV), and MTV Canada (the Canadianized MTV).

CTV was formerly owned wholly by Bell Canada (now about 20%), and now you’re up to speed.

(UPDATE: Bell Canada has repurchased the entirety of CTV as of September 10th, 2010)

On the whole, the CTV broadcast of the Olympics was completely and totally shit – I’m not gonna mince words here.

The fact that the Canadian-origin Olympic broadcasts were shit is endemic of Bell Canada’s general attitude towards the Canadian public and none of us should have been really surprised at the epic failure of the endeavor.

The technologies employed for the Olympics broadcasts were seriously lacking when compared to the station most Canadians turned to when comparable programming was on offer: NBC.

Why is that?

The answer – to put it simply – is competition.

In the United States of America, NBC had the sole rights for broadcasting the Olympic games to the entire country – but they had to deal with new shows or counter programming from their two rivals, namely ABC and CBS.

NBC was in a position where they had to use absolute top notch video, audio, and graphical technology to make the Olympics palatable to the average American to ensure good Nielsen ratings performance against shows like CSI and LOST.

I give a tip of my metaphorical hat to Mr. Zucker, the president of NBC, for making these strong decisions and reaping the benefits.

However, the corporate masters at CTV didn’t really see the need to go all out on the technical standards because they had the Canadian viewers by the balls – so to speak.

Why?

Two things.

Patriotism and lack of choices.

If a Canadian wanted to watch the games, they (at least in the heads of CTV masters) would have no other option than to watch the CTV family coverage.

And what Canadian DIDN’T want to watch the Olympics hosted in Vancouver, British Columbia – which happens to be in CANADA?

What Canadian citizen didn’t want to watch our Canadian Olympians win more gold medals than any other country in the history of the Games?

There was simply no choice for a lot of Canadians out there across our great land (2nd largest country in the world, by the way) who only got two or three channels on their televisions due to lack of cable or satellite service.

You see, CTV’s corporate masters give it lots of money to spend on licensing of the lion’s share of top rated American shows – meaning that even if you wanted to watch American Idol or other supershows instead of the Olympics, and you didn’t have cable, you were stuck watching the Olympics because your feeble rabbit ear & coat hanger setup can’t pull in an American network.

These are the facts of the previously mentioned experiment.

I’m not really aware of the total ratings breakdown of the CTV broadcasts, but from what I gather, it was a resounding success for the big wigs at Bell Canada’s broadcast division.

Which only serves to reinforce the way that Bell Canada operates throughout our vast country.

You see, Bell Canada used to be a complete and total monopoly of the Canadian telephone system – that is up until the past fifteen years or so where the CRTC (the Canadian telecommunications authority) opened up the phone market to other companies.

Bell had to deal with outside companies all of a sudden competing with them for the Canadian telecom dollar.

American companies came in and tried to run services for a while – specifically Sprint and AT&T (both of which eventually folded their Canuck operations into the Canadian telecom company Rogers).

With the fear of losing massive monopoly sized profits, Bell Canada decided to buy CTV and it’s associated networks to shore up it’s bottom line through the often mystical art of television tradecraft.

For the average Canadian, nothing really changed on television – save for the inclusion of Bell’s corporate logo at the bottom of CTV’s original local programming credits.

And in the years since the CTV takeover, nothing has really changed either – aside from some graphical makeup applied to the CTV brand.

Why?

Bell Canada loathes Canadians – or, at the very least, holds Canadians in total and utter contempt.

For all the water that has passed under the bridge since the monopoly breakup, Bell Canada still operates as a monopoly.

An alarmingly large amount of Canada’s telecom assets are still owned and operated by Bell Canada – including (and the most troubling of all) the entire Canadian internet backbone system.

Bell Canada owns the Canadian internet – despite not having a monopoly on how people subscribe to internet services.

Independent internet service providers have to buy their backbone access through Bell’s infrastructure wholesale.

A Canadian citizen might get their internet through a local company, but that internet is ultimately controlled by Bell.

To borrow something from the Matrix movies, Bell Canada guards all the doors and they hold all the keys – at least as far as the internet is concerned.

That local ISP may not have restrictive content filters that would slow down internet applications like BitTorrent or other P2P programs – but your data traffic cultivated by those apps will still suffer speed delays because Bell Canada does filter.

So in the end, no matter who you’re signed up with, Bell Canada still controls what you do on the internet.

Also, your internet is going to suck when compared to other developed nations.

According to a recent study by eggheads at Harvard University, Canada is 18th on a list of internet service quality.

Why eighteenth?

Because Bell still operates as if it’s a monopoly – and it is the one true  internet God in the realm of Canada’s cyberspaces.

In countries like Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Sweden, or the United States (among many other countries ahead of Canada on the afore-mentioned list), internet services improve over time due to market forces in a wide open internet marketplace.

Let’s use the United States as a working example, shall we?

In the U.S. there is a plethora of companies offering internet access via their own, wholly owned data networks that are in direct competition which each other for American customer dollars.

In hopes of attracting new customers, American networks are constantly upgrading themselves to offer bigger and better products.

Case in point, Verizon has wired large portions of America with a fiber optic transmission network so they can offer blazing data speeds when compared to their competition (AT&T, Sprint, etc.) who are still relying on century-old metal wire network technology.

Competition is the heart of progress in all systems on the planet – both technological and biological.

For something to become better, it has to have incentive to do so – and as it is, Bell Canada has ZERO incentive to improve itself.

I’m sure that somewhere in Bell Canada’s executive building(s), there’s a large brass plaque that reads in bold letters WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT?

Until the CRTC grows some balls and forces Bell to divest itself of the Canadian internet backbone, Bell Canada will not invest one measly dime in network upgrades than it has to – and believe me, it doesn’t spend one penny that it isn’t forced to.

Except…

Except for internet service via cellphone.

The cellphone service sector is wide open in Canada with many competitors vying for 34 million Canadian’s hard earned cash.

Rogers, Telus, Koodo, Virgin, Wind Mobile – all nipping at Bell’s subscriber base, which forced the company to innovate and try to offer a technological edge to it’s customers that wouldn’t be available to other services.

If there weren’t other cellphone service providers in the Canadian market, Canadians would not have access to 3G or the oncoming 4G.

Bell users now have the opportunity to use the vaunted iPhone (gag me with a spoon) because Bell was forced to upgrade it’s network to compete with Rogers who was already offering iPhones.

That’s the process of competitive evolution in action.

The dinosaurs went through this hundreds of millions of years ago in our planet’s distant past, but the dinosaur that is Bell Canada simply refuses to evolve because there isn’t another corporate beastie big enough to take a bite out of it’s gnarled hide.

For this, we Canadians are in the technological third-world – which really, really sucks.

As much as we love to brag to our quarrelsome American neighbors about how we have superior, free healthcare and how we mopped the floor with them in the 2010 Olympic gold medal count, we must continuously hide our shame in regards to how friggin’ slow our internet speeds are.

I sit here in envy of whichever American cities get selected for Google’s internet service experiments that promises speeds of 1GB per second: yes, one gigabyte per second compared to my 300 kilobytes per second as I write this blog.

No, 300kbps isn’t a national average in Canada.

The average data speed in high-speed enabled communities throughout Canada is 10 megabytes per second via DSL service, 12Mbps via cable internet service – and I’ve enjoyed connection speeds of up to 5Mbps via DSL in the past, but those were anomalous and based on living in the right areas where Bell spent some extra money on their wiring .

Yes… I could subscribe to my cable company’s (Cogeco) internet service and get that 12Mbps, but there’s a gigantic catch to that blissful speed: a solid 60 gigabyte data cap – which is fairly standard amongst North American cable companies.

60GB isn’t enough by far for my demanding usage as I regularly move 200GB or so a month via gaming, uploading to social media sites like YouTube and Flickr, and downloading music/TV shows/movies.

So I’m stuck on this crappy Bell-supplied architecture.

And we, as Canadians, were stuck with the crappy, Bell-managed CTV Olympics coverage when we couldn’t turn to NBC for the same event – which was sporadic at best since NBC’s coverage was very focused on American Olympians and would skip events where the U.S. wasn’t competing, and completely blanked the Canadian cultural portion of the Closing Ceremonies.

AARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH! @$#%&!

Seriously, Bell Canada… what the hell?

The next time I stop to use a pay-phone, I hope you choke to death on the two quarters.

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Oh… and that experiment and it’s purpose?

To figure out how much shit we as Canadians are willing to put up with.

And by the looks of it, Bell Canada will continue to use the Canadian market as it’s own personal outhouse.

Thoughts On The 2010 Golden Globes

First thing off the bat that I noticed was the directing SUCKED.

Camera people were consistently out of place, and the coordinators had almost no idea of where anyone was seated.

WTF? How do you screw that shit up?

But I digress…

Big winner of the night were the Na’vi – who walked away with Best Motion Picture and Best Director – which A) really primes the movie for Oscar glory, and B) was inevitable.

Robert Downey, Jr. got some love for SHERLOCK HOLMES – but I was really puzzled about the category: Comedy/Musical.

Me thinks I’ll have to check that flick out to properly gauge the jokes and musical numbers.

Hollywood’s most overlooked workhorse, Jeff Bridges, finally got an award for his country music flick CRAZY HEART – which I have yet to see (anyone want to send me a screener copy?).

One of the most dumbfounding moments of the night was Drew Barrymore getting some hardware for GRAY GARDENS – not because she won (she’s always charming) but the fact that she’s never won a Golden Globe before, especially since she’s been coming to the awards since she was 7 or 8 years old.

It was cool to see what Michael Giacchino actually looked like (musical score for UP) as I’d never laid eyes on him before – so now he goes into the mental gallery with Danny Elfman and John Williams.

It was fitting that the scene-chewing Jew Hunter from INGLORIOUS BASTERDS won a trophy as Cristoph Waltz is actually a pretty decent dude.

The TV awards were pretty lame as nobody from any worthwhile shows won awards – though MAD MEN picked up Best Show (obvious, no?).

…Which brings me to the show’s actual Golden Globes:

Mmmm... global

Oh… and Ricky Gervais’ shot at Mel Gibson? Priceless!

The Battle For Canadian Television

Have you watched Canadian television broadcasts in the past month or so?

If you have, then chances are you’ve seen the advertisements from the dueling TV camps.

There’s this one – for example – from the group representing CTV, CanWest Global, and the CBC (to a lesser extent):

Or this one, sponsored by the cable television providers in Canada (not the most popular ad at the moment, but representative):

The problem with this battle for your TV dollar is that both side are right… which is presenting a massive headache for the CRTC (the federal agency responsible for policing Canada’s airwaves).

What to do?

Canada’s cable and satellite television providers both pay cross-border carriage fees for American broadcast channels which allow you to watch network content from stations operated  by ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX affiliates.

Cable and satellite companies also obviously pay money to carry programming from American and Canadian premium content providers such as HBO, Super Channel, The Movie Network/Movie Central.

They also pay fees to carry mid-level content from well-known providers like Discovery Channel, Bravo, National Geographic Channel, Showcase, and others – which are all operated by either CTVGlobemedia (owned by Bell Canada) or the former Alliance television division that is now owned by CanWest Global.

These fees paid by the cable and satellite companies goes toward content broadcast by the individual providers and is completely understandable since you can’t create programming for free.

At a glance, it wouldn’t seem so bad that Canadian broadcast channels want some extra money – especially considering the cable companies essentially are charging Canadians money for something that is free by its very nature.

However, this argument is flawed.

Do you buy bottled water?

You do?

Why?

Water is free! Hell, it’s one of the most abundant substances on the face of the planet!

What’s that? You can’t find any clean water where you are?

Ah… now that’s the rub, ain’t it?

The same principle applies to broadcast-via-airwaves television signals: some people can’t tune into a pure TV signal from all the broadcasters – whether it be due to geographical location or too much electromagnetic clutter in their area.

Rabbit ears only can do so much in Canada’s analogue television landscape – which is precisely why people pay for television service from companies like Rogers or Shaw Direct (formerly Starchoice)

However, there is a mitigating factor in this battle and its name is Advertising.

Canada’s big three traditional broadcasters – namely CTV, Global, and CBC – support their on-air programming through selling advertising time to large corporations like Coca-Cola, General Motors, Telus, or the Bank Of Nova Scotia.

In turn, these companies pay X-number of dollars per minute of air time – sometimes in the range of millions of dollars per minute during the most watched programs – thus ensuring that their products are seen by the maximum number of eyeballs that their money can achieve.

The money broadcasters take in via selling advertising is then turned around and spent on on-air programming that you and I watch – whether it be the local news, or the latest episode of C.S.I.

The problem for the broadcasters in this day and age – meaning the current economic recession – is that the companies that need to advertise have less money and therefore are less willing to part with those dollars, and that drives down the amount of money Canadian broadcasters are taking in.

This leaves them in a bit of a bind: spend money on expensive American programs which guarantees people watching their station and it’s paid advertising, or spend money on homegrown content like local news.

Canadian broadcasters are also left with smaller operating budgets necessary for operating their networks across the country.

Some of you out there might have already noticed smaller stations going off the air coast to coast – stations that just weren’t bringing in enough revenue to their owners via advertising market share through no real fault of their own other than being in a city with 800,000 citizens versus one with 3 million.

The biggest bug in the ointment – and what this whole debate centers on – is the fact that the Canadian broadcasters essentially want to tax the viewers for their own failing business practices, which is completely unacceptable!

Yet… the cable companies are making money on things they have paid zero dollars to create.

So, as I said at the top, both parties are right – and both parties are wrong.

What is the answer to this problem?

I personally think that it’s a bit of COLUMN A and a bit of COLUMN B.

Canadian broadcasters should invest in Canadian-made content that people actually want to watch – shows that don’t completely suck a plate of dog bollocks – which will inherently be cheaper than foreign-originating programs and be much better for their operating capital.

To a degree, CTV and CBC have occasionally done this, but their successful programs are very far in between.

Seriously… what was the last Canadian drama or comedy program that you watched as much as you do an American alternative?

Also, the cable and satellite companies need to kick in a few bucks WITHOUT passing on the costs to their subscribers because that’s very much dishonest.

My cable bill from Cogeco is already $90 for a mid-level digital package that has all the basic tier programming, channels like Discovery, 10 a-la-carte stations, and a time-shifting package that has channels from the east and west coast – and does not include anything like a digital video recorder or any of the other fancy ad-ons like VoIP phone service or internet.

The suggested carriage fee of $10 per subscriber would bring my bill to $100!

Is television worth $100 to you?

Come on now.

Be honest.