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 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.” called the “landmark” decision a “precedent for mobile providers across Canada.” Campaigns Manager Josh Tabish of 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?