Last September, a number of consumer advocacy groups, including the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), published a letter claiming Videotron’s then launched Unlimited Music service violated Canada’s net neutrality rules.
The service, which is currently available to subscribers on the company’s more expensive wireless plans, does not count data usage stemming from certain music streaming platforms, including Spotify, Google Play Music and 8Tracks, against a customer’s bandwidth cap.
When Videotron offers a product like Unlimited Music it’s doing something called zero rating. Essentially, Unlimited Music and services like it, including previous iterations of Bell’s own mobile TV app, exclude a certain type from being billed, in the process privileging one type of traffic over another.
Consumer advocacy groups weren’t the only ones to take issue with Unlimited Music when it launched. A month after the PIAC and its allies published their letter, Rogers sent its own appeal to the CRTC.
In the letter, obtained by MobileSyrup, David Watt, the company’s senior vice-president of regulatory and corporate, said, “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.”
Since those letters came out, the CRTC has mostly remained quiet on the topic. That is, until this morning when the organization asked the Canadian public to tell it what it thought of differential internet data pricing plans.
The CRTC explicitly mentions Videotron in its press release, saying, “The CRTC is looking at this issue following the receipt of applications regarding Videotron’s Unlimited Music service, which exempts several music streaming services from data charges under certain mobile plans. The CRTC will rule on the Unlimited Music service on the basis of the broader record on differential pricing practices.”
When it commences a hearing on the subject on October 31, the CRTC will try to answer questions like “How should differential pricing practices be defined in relation to the provision of Internet data plans over wireline and wireless networks?” and “What are the benefits and concerns about these practices, and do these concerns outweigh the benefits as to justify regulatory intervention?”
“Differential pricing is emerging in Canada and elsewhere as a more common practice. Service providers appear to be attempting to distinguish their services and attract customers through such practices. This consultation will enable us to better understand the potential benefits and risks to consumers, application providers and Internet service providers,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman and CEO of the CRTC in a statement. “Our aim is to develop a clear and transparent regulatory approach that will provide certainty. The CRTC, like other regulatory agencies in other jurisdictions, continues to be concerned about the impact of such practices on net neutrality.”
Canadians can voice their opinion on the zero rating by filling out an online form, available here. The CRTC is accepting comments until June 17.
Correction: an earlier version of this article mistakenly said Canada’s Telecommunications Act prohibits zero rating, which is incorrect. The practice become contentious when it creates an unfair advantage for a carrier, as it did with Bell’s Mobile TV app when it first launched. The relevant subsection of the Telecommunications Act can be seen below:
“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.