What measures media companies and telcos are taking amidst a crisis

Data overages are dropping, publisher paywalls are being pulled back and more.
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Just as the growth rate of new COVID-19 infections has been on an exponential curve in many global markets, so have the changes to the retail, media and advertising landscape.

Retailers sent email notices to customers over the last few days stating they were either taking extra precautions to avoid transmission of the virus in their stores or temporarily closing their locations altogether. Higher education institutions have moved the majority of their coursework online. All the while, media has attempted to keep up with the changes day-to-day.

Here’s what some of media companies are doing in order to provide access to those looking to stay in-the-know.

Telcos drop data caps

All of the major telecommunication companies in Canada have announced they will temporarily remove charges on data overages for customers. This has been driven largely by the spike in demand for people to work from home, as well as a desire to increase access to information.

Rogers Communications will waive data overages for residential customers, as will Bell Canada, which will also waive additional usage fees for residential internet customers including Bell Aliant, Bell MTS and Virgin Home Internet services, until the end of April.

Quebec-based Videotron is also suspending additional data charges from now until March 31.

Telus announced Thursday that it would waive home internet fees until the end of April and would allow flexible payment options for customers affected financially by shutdowns and closures.

Canadian publishers drop paywalls on key COVID stories

The Globe and Mail has dropped the paywall on its news stories related to COVID-19. This includes in-depth health explainers as well as news briefs on a wide range of topics from public health recommendations to travel advisories and government responses. However, some business and investment stories will remain paywalled.

“We believe our journalism can help people make informed decisions as we navigate uncertain times,” the company wrote. “We normally rely on subscriptions to bring you our reporting, but have chosen to make most coronavirus-related articles free because of the enormous public safety interest.”

Torstar has adopted a similar policy, removing the paywall on what it has defined as “select public service stories.” The stories are identified on the home and section pages with a red “Free Digital Access” label.

In a post announcing the changes, Torstar public editor Irene Gentle explained why all of its stories aren’t free all of the time. “The simple reason is we deal in reporting, in investigating, in fact-finding and working to help people understand complex stories, such as coronavirus,” Gentle wrote. “That is ridiculously expensive to do.”

In last month’s quarterly report, Torstar announced that although print subscriptions across the company were down, that was balanced out by digital subscriptions, indicating that the company’s paid digital products are on the rise.

CBC, Bell Media extend availability of specialty nets

CBC has opted to give Canadians more access to its two 24-hour news specialty channels, CBC News Network and French-language network ICI-RDI, more widely available.

Effective immediately, CBC News Network will be available to all subscribers on Bell TV, Shaw and Cogeco. Additionally, it is available on CBC Gem and CBC’s other digital properties, in order to extend access to people without cable subscriptions. ICI-RDI will be available to subscribers of Bell TV, Cogeco and Videotron, as well as on SRC’s digital services.

Bell Media has also upped its specialty availability. From now until April 17, CTV News Channel and CP24 are now available for free preview through TV service providers until April 17. Viewers can also access the channels live online, while CTV News Channel is available through the CTV News app and CTVNews.ca. CP24 is also available through its respective app and website. CTV News has also created a dedicated site for coronavirus coverage dedicated to all breaking news updates and added context from reporters across Canada.