CRTC Bans Bell, Videotron from Subsidizing Data for Mobile TV Apps

Last August, the CRTC made it clear it was set to investigate a complaint from Manitoba graduate student Ben Klass regarding the subsidizing of mobile data for TV apps from Bell and Videotron. Klass’ complaint revealed the mobile TV subsidy saw Bell marking up data to competing services by a whopping 800%.

Mobile data used for Bell and Videotron’s TV apps did not count against customer data buckets, but usage of YouTube or other video apps did. That was seen as unfair, and now the CRTC has agreed (Rogers ended their $5/month Anyplace TV subscription during the inquiry).

In a speech to the London Chamber of Commerce regarding the future of television in Canada, Jean-Pierre Blais, CRTC chairman had this to say about the Bell and Videotron decision:

In our opinion, providers such as Bell and Vidéotron that offer linear content via their mobile TV apps cannot provide undue preferences or advantages. We therefore ordered Bell and Vidéotron to eliminate their unlawful practices.

That may sound to some like a small issue to be bothered about. I respectfully disagree. Here’s why. At its core, this decision isn’t so much about Bell or Vidéotron. It’s about all of us and our ability to access content equally and fairly, in an open market that favours innovation and choice. The CRTC always wants to ensure ­– and this decision supports this goal ­– that Canadians have fair and reasonable access to content. That everyone can access the bridges without restrictions. We also want to ensure that abuses of power in the system do not go unchecked.

Blais went on to say he supports perks and innovation offered by companies, “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.”

The CRTC told Bell in a written decision to end its mobile TV pricing by April 29 and told Videotron to similarly confirm it would end its illico.tv app by March 31.

Klass had this to say on the decision, calling it “heartening”:

“Ensuring that all content is treated equally is crucial to ensuring that the Internet remains a level playing field for innovators, entrepreneurs, and everyday Internet users. In a world where Bell could charge 800% more for competing services it seemed unlikely that innovation could thrive. It’s heartening to see the CRTC side with Canadians and strike down this unfair practice.”

Consumer groups applauded the CRTC’s decisions today. Geoff White, Counsel to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), said in a statement “The CRTC was right to see through the self-serving arguments of Bell and Videotron,” further adding “Since these companies offer internet access, they must abide by the fairness requirements of Canadian telecommunications law and not prefer their own programming.”

OpenMedia.ca called the “landmark” decision a “precedent for mobile providers across Canada.” Campaigns Manager Josh Tabish of OpenMedia.ca called this decision a “big win”:

“This is a big win for wireless users across Canada. We’re very happy to see the CRTC taking steps to stop Big Telecom unfairly charging people more to access alternative content and services. Let’s be clear on one thing: the telecom companies were fighting for new tools to squeeze even more money out of mobile users in Canada – but today, they lost that power.”

There you have it. Mark this up as a win for mobile net neutrality. What do you think of this decision by the CRTC?

 

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of iPhoneinCanada.ca. Follow me on Twitter, and @iPhoneinCanada, and on Google+.

  • Geoffrey Spencer

    Bell, Rogers and the others need to introduce for a set fee unlimited internet on mobile devices. Bell offers this with their home internet so why not for mobile internet?

  • Al

    I’m at a loss to understand how this benefits anyone. In fact, it sounds like those who took advantage of this service now lose the benefits and will have to pay more if they continue to view the same amount of content. All in the name of “Net neutrality”? Like… so what?!

    It seems as though our principles are getting in the way of logic.

    Or maybe I’m just not fully understanding this.

  • hub2

    Because then a lot fewer people in urban areas with good 3G/LTE signal would buy their home internet packages, they’d just tether/hotspot through their phones.

    And on my iPhone 5, good LTE connection speeds are incredible, with download speeds about the same as Rogers’ Fibre 30 plan, and upload speeds better than their Fibre 250 range (which is “only” 20 Mbps upload).

  • Geoffrey Spencer

    I have only 3G at my house and at work. It is awful. Not many rural areas have good 3G. I know because I work in the rural area outside of Ottawa and the cellular *and* land-based internet services are TERRIBLE. It should be a choice for people to use cellular or landline internet. If they want to tether so be it.

  • Tim

    This was one of the rare good deals that the providers were offering – five bucks got you a tonne of extra bandwidth to watch TV. Like Al said, pragmatically speaking this sucks for almost everyone. How is the CRTC protecting consumers? Is rogers being forced to offer cheap streaming of Bell TV now? No.

    This is indicative of how out of touch the CRTC is.

  • Tim

    I don’t think the capacity exists. I’m fairly certain that the providers could manage more traffic than they currently are, but there are physics limitations with radio spectrum. If you have enough people downloading 200gb per month over the air saturation becomes a quick reality. There’s some small companies in select regions that have local rights to cellular airwaves for the purposes of providing internet. This still often comes with pretty small caps and high prices.

    Similarly, companies like Wind don’t have the air wave capacity to handle LTE bandwidth levels. Even on their unlimited plans now, it’s heavily throttled to maintain service for everyone else.

  • Joe

    Al: you are fully understanding this. It’s true: all this decision means is that people who subscribe to services like bell’s mobile TV app and others are now going to have to pay for the data they use. Hence it doesn’t benefit anyone, it just screws over the (albeit small) percentage of Canadians who were utilizing the benefit of the mobile TV apps.

    That being said, I do see the CRTC’s point of view here. From their perspective, it does certainly seem like bell is giving their TV service an unfair advantage and the consequences of that could have a ripple effect that stifles innovation and/or prevents services like Netflix from competing in the mobile space. Especially when you consider that data plans in Canada have shrunk significantly over the past few years.

    If bell loves their customers so much, they should increase everyone’s data bucket and encourage them to enjoy streaming video on their phones. And I’m sure that’s exactly what they’ll do…. right? 🙂

  • Al

    Ya, I picked up on the reasoning. I just didn’t see how that was fair.

    Forgetting that Bell, etc are evil for a moment… As a business, they should have every right to discount their own product. If you walk into a retailer that, in addition to selling other brands, also has their own brand that they feature at better pricing, there is no governing body that tells them they can’t do that.

    I always say the CRTC acts like communists, and this is just another example.