Rogers stands up for net neutrality, complains Videotron’s Unlimited Music service violates Telecommunications Act

Canada’s largest wireless provider, Rogers, has filed a complaint with the CRTC siding with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre’s concern that Videotron’s newly-launched Unlimited Music service is in violation of Canada’s net neutrality rules.

In a document obtained by MobileSyrup, Rogers’ Senior Vice President of Regulatory & Corporate, David Watt, appealed to the CRTC on a number of levels regarding what it believes are blatant contraventions of Canada’s net neutrality rules, noting that Videotron’s practices will make it harder for companies like Rogers to compete.

He notes that “by acting as a gatekeeper and selecting which audio services receive special zero-rated data usage treatment on its wireless network, Videotron has conferred upon consumers of these services, as well as upon the five audio streaming services that make up Unlimited Music, an undue and unreasonable preference.”

Videotron allows customers on a number of its more expensive plans to forgo data overages and avoid accruing bandwidth charges when listening to music from, as of now, eight streaming music services: Rdio, Spotify, Google Play Music, Deezer, Songza, 8Tracks, Groove (formerly Xbox Music), and Stingray Music, with more to come.

In its note, Rogers asserts that Videotron’s actions contravenes a specific clause in the Telecommunications Act preventing companies from showing “undue discrimination” towards certain types of content, or against certain types of users, and by selecting which services don’t count towards one’s bandwidth it is influencing how people consume media, and disadvantaging those on cheaper plans.

Rogers also says that Unlimited Music goes against the CRTC’s Wireless Code of Conduct, since Videotron states that users on certain plans will not receive any overages, but notes in the finer print that if customers leave their home network, or decide to stream at bitrates above 128kbps, they may have to pay additional fees. The wireless code has a provision stating that “A service provider must not charge a customer any overage charge for services purchased on an unlimited basis.”

Rogers cites the CRTC’s Mobile TV decision from earlier this year, which forced Bell and Videotron to change the way they charge for video streaming of their own content. While both companies have since eliminated the practice, Videotron notes that Unlimited Music does not have the same impact to net neutrality (though it disagrees with the CRTC’s Mobile TV decision in its entirety), since its parent company, Quebecor, does not have a controlling stake in any of the content providers.

In a response to PIAC’s and Roger’s letters to the CRTC, Videotron said that Unlimited Music had no “ulterior motives,” and was merely there to “broaden [the] appeal” of streaming music services to “the key 14-to-34-year-old demographic.”

Rogers has taken it upon itself, under the slick management of CEO Guy Laurence, to champion the net neutrality cause in Canada. Citing the CRTC’s decision to “favour an open and non-discriminatory marketplace for mobile TV services, enabling innovation and choice for Canadians,” the company says, “Rogers supports this objective and submits that the same approach should be adopted by the Commission with respect to mobile audio services. The Unlimited Music service offered by Videotron is fundamentally at odds with the objective of ensuring that there is an open and non-discriminatory marketplace for mobile audio services.”

That Rogers wants carriers to be able to charge its customers for data services is no surprise. During a recent media briefing with Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, Guy Laurence remarked that he wants Canadians to grow accustomed to using more monthly data, since the high-demand commodity is the only facet of growth in a quickly-saturating mobile market. Creating a regulatory framework that limits the proliferation of a service like Videotron’s Unlimited Music is in Laurence’s best interests, since he’d rather get Canadians using their monthly data plans to watch and listen to Rogers-owned content.

According to The Globe & Mail, Telus recently filed a letter in support of Videotron’s actions, citing opportunities for carrier differentiation in “in competitive markets where different groups of customers pay different prices depending on their demand for services.”

It’s unclear at this point when the CRTC will issue a formal decision on the claims, but they are looking into whether or not to formalize its regulation around Videotron’s streaming exemption ambitions.