CRTC says Internet providers should treat all data equally
Internet service providers can no longer exempt some content, like certain video and music streaming applications, from counting towards customers' data caps, says Canada's telecommunications watchdog.
The CRTC ruled that ISPs must treat all web traffic equally and cannot prioritize such content by exempting its use from being tallied towards a data cap. The practice, known as differential pricing, could give an unfair advantage or disadvantage to some content providers and consumers, the commission said.
The CRTC did not go so far as to ban monthly data allotments as some consumer advocacy groups had urged, but said it hopes the new differential pricing framework will spur companies to offer consumers more data at lower prices.
“We will want to see ISP providers to be actually competing on what they should be competing –– not gimmicks, not coat-tailing on other people’s innovation but actually reducing data caps, increasing speeds and reducing prices,” CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais told BNN.
The decision will stop internet service providers from tilting the playing field in favour of content providers that they already have a relationship or that could stifle innovation, said Blais. “The subscribers, they decide what they want to watch — they aren’t being pushed or prodded one way or another by the ISP,” he said.
Josh Tabish, a spokesman for consumer advocacy group OpenMedia, which campaigned for the CRTC to end the practice of data caps in Canada, said he's fairly optimistic the ruling will make a difference.
When providers can't use billing gimmicks like differential pricing, he said, companies will only be able to compete on data, speed and price.
Rogers (RCIb.TO), Bell (BCE.TO) and Telus (T.TO) did not respond to questions about offering cheaper plans with more data in the future.
Bell said it already operates in a way that is consistent with the new framework and Rogers called it a good decision that prevents Internet providers from acting as gatekeepers. Telus said it is currently reviewing the CRTC's decision regarding the practice of differential pricing.
The CRTC decision came following hearings held last fall stemming from a complaint about Quebecor-owned Videotron over the way it bills customers for the data they use.
Videotron launched an unlimited music streaming service in August 2015 that allowed its customers to stream music from specific third-party services without it counting against their monthly data cap.
The CRTC ruled that Videotron must ensure this service complies with the new regulations within 90 days.
Videotron said in a statement that it's disappointed by the decision as it believed its service was responsive to consumers' needs and interests.
The company said it will study the decision and determine how to proceed. It will advise customers who use the unlimited music streaming service, which will be maintained until further notice, of any developments.
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With files from BNN