Well, that was quick. Less than a week after it announced its Unlimited Music initiative, Videotron has drawn the ire of multiple consumer advocacy groups across the country.
In a letter addressed to the John Traversy, the secretary general of Canada’s telco regulator, the CRTC, the Consumers’ Association of Canada (CAC), the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of British Columbia (COSCO) and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) allege that Videotron’s new service is violation of subsection 27, 2 of the Telecommunications Act.
“No Canadian carrier shall, in relation to the provision of a telecommunications service or the charging of a rate for it, unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage,” says the subsection in question.
Over the course of 18 pages, the co-authors of the letter argue Videotron’s Unlimited Music not only gives undue and unreasonable preference to itself, but that it also disadvantages many of its customers at the same time.
For instance, one part of the document argues that consumers who listen to music through services unaffiliated with Unlimited Music are forced to pay data charges. This is certainly true as using a streaming service like Apple Music and TuneIn Radio are not currently included in the service. Videotron’s preemptive strike against such assertions is that it is currently working with a number of streaming providers to add their services, Apple included, and that it is open to negotiating bandwidth exemptions with all types of companies in the content business.
PIAC notes that because Unlimited Music is not available to all Videotron customers, but only those spending over a certain amount every month, it also amounts to a penalty against its lower-tier subscribers, subjecting them to potential data overages.
Though Videotron claims that no money is exchanging hands between the music industry and parent company Quebecor, PIAC argues that the program’s mere existence unfairly advantages certain players. “If this practice which is sanctioned,” the document says, “it will allow Vidéotron and other telecommunications service providers not just to pick winners and losers in terms of online content, therefore retrenching the absolute power of network owners, but it will allow network owners to shut out already marginalized citizens who struggle to be connected.”
The document in its entirety can be read on the PIAC website, and, if you can get past the legal jargon, it’s certainly worth the read.
That groups like the PIAC are asking the CRTC to look in to Unlimited Music is not surprising. As we said when the company announced the service, Videotron was going to have a difficult time getting the CRTC to assent to it given its history with zero rating.
The Commission has a history of regulating carriers that attempt to exclude a certain type of traffic from being billed; in fact, Videotron was one of the companies that was forced to change its billing practices after the CRTC issued its mobile TV decision.
Daniel Bader contributed to this report.