The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) most recent application of its net neutrality rules was exhibited last week when the watchdog ruled on the legality of mobile television viewing services provided by carriers Bell and Videotron.
The case stems from a November 2013 complaint filed University of Manitoba graduate student, Ben Klass, who observed that Bell offers a $5 per month mobile TV service which allows customers to Bell-owned or licensed TV channels for 10 hours without any impact on their data cap.
Klass, noted that people accessing the same content via a third-party such as Netflix would be charged a higher fee because their data usage would be counted against their monthly cap. Videotron got added to the case because of similar concerns around its mobile television service.
It may sound like a small issue but CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais said it actually touches on something far bigger.
“At its core, this decision isn’t so much about Bell or Videotron,” he said in statement yesterday. “It’s about all of us and our ability to access content equally and fairly in an open market that favour innovation and choice.”
Bell argued that mobile television services are subject to broadcast regulation, not telecom regulations. It also said it was offering a good service to customers and should be encouraged.
The CRTC, however ruled that mobile television services invoke both broadcast and telecom regulations because in order to access the service a data connection is needed.
“From a subscriber’s perspective, the movie TV services are accessed and delivered under conditions that are substantially similar to those of other Internet-originated telecommunications services,” according to the CRTC.
The statement is crucial, according to privacy advocate and online issues expert Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who holds the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce law.
“…it ensures that providers will not avoid the regulatory features of the Telecommunications Act by arguing that the services should be treated solely as broadcast,” Geist said in a blog. “The decision was clearly grounded with net neutrality principles in mind. CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais, speaking just prior to the release of the decision, stated that there would be ‘no fast and slow lanes.’”
The commission also said it found “that the preference given in relation to the transport of Bell Mobility’s and Videotron’s mobile TV services to subscribers’ mobile devices, and the corresponding disadvantage in relation to the transport of other audiovisual content services available over the Internet, will grow and will have a material impact on consumers, and other audiovisual content services in particular.”
“It may be tempting for large vertically integrated companies to offer certain perks to their customers, and innovation in its purest form is to be applauded,” Blais said. “…But when the impetus to innovate steps on the toes of the principle of fair and open access to content, we will intervene. We’ve got to keep the lanes of our bridges unobstructed so that everyone can cross.”