Bell’s Mobile TV Practice Violates Telecommunications Act: CRTC

Commission orders Bell to eliminate its unlawful practice

by: Obert Madondo  | Jan 30, 2015

Entrance to Bell Canada building in Ottawa. (Photo: OBERT MADONDO / The Canadian Progressive)

Entrance to Bell Canada building in Ottawa. (Photo: OBERT MADONDO / The Canadian Progressive)

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada’s broadcast regulator, has ruled that Bell’s mobile TV practices violate the Telecommunications Act.

The ruling followed a complaint filed in November, 2013, by Ben Klass, a University of Manitoba graduate student, who noted that the telecom behemoth was punishing people accessing Bell content through third-party services such as Netflix.

In short, this was Klass’ argument:

“It turns out that Bell charges you $5 a month to watch 5GB worth of their own content. If you want to watch 5GB worth of Netflix on the Bell network, on the other hand, they charge you $40. That’s a markup of 800%.”

Download: Ben Klass’s full complaint (PDF) against Bell Mobilicity.

A similar complaint was filed against Vidéotron.

Here’s a partial text of the CRTC’s ruling against Bell Mobility et al:

The Commission finds that Bell Mobility Inc. (Bell Mobility) and Quebecor Media Inc., Videotron Ltd. and Videotron G.P. (collectively, Videotron), violated subsection 27(2) of the Telecommunications Act by exempting their mobile TV services Bell Mobile TV and from data charges. Subsection 27(2) prohibits Canadian carriers from conferring an undue disadvantage to others, or an undue preference to itself or others. Bell Mobility and Videotron have given an undue preference in favour of subscribers of their respective mobile TV services, as well as in favour of their own services, and have subjected consumers of other audiovisual content services, and other services, to a corresponding undue disadvantage.

In light of the above, the Commission directs Bell Mobility to eliminate its unlawful practice with respect to data charges for its mobile TV service by no later than 29 April 2015.

Further, the Commission directs Videotron to confirm by 31 March 2015 that it completed its planned withdrawal of its app for Blackberry- and Android-based phones by 31 December 2014, thereby removing any undue preference for its mobile TV service, and ensure that any new mobile TV service complies with the determinations set out in this decision.

This decision will favour an open and non-discriminatory marketplace for mobile TV services, enabling innovation and choice for Canadians. The Commission is very supportive of the development of new means by which Canadians can access both Canadian-made and foreign audiovisual content. However, mobile service providers cannot do so in a manner contrary to the Telecommunications Act.

Addressing the London Chamber of Commerce prior to the ruling, CRTC Chairperson Jean-Pierre Blais said the practices by Bell and Vidéotron were “unlawful.”

“In our opinion, providers such as Bell and Vidéotron that offer linear content via their mobile TV apps cannot provide undue preferences or advantages,” said Blais. He added:

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.

It may be tempting for large vertically integrated companies to offer certain perks to their customers, and innovation in its purest form is to be applauded. By all means, we at the CRTC want broadcasters to move television forward by creating new and exciting ways to view content. 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.

In the same way, we will defend and support an open Internet. Canadians want an open communication system.

Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa professor and Internet law expert, said the CRTC’s ruling has “implications for net neutrality.”

“The decision was clearly grounded with net neutrality principles in mind,” Geist wrote in a recent blog post.

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow me on Twitter: @Obiemad

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He's the founder and editor of these independent publications: The Canadian Progressive, a political blog dedicated to progressive Canadian journalism; The Zimbabwean Progressive, a political blog dedicated to producing fearless, progressive, adversarial, unapologetic, and activism-oriented Zimbabwean journalism; and Charity Files, a publication dedicated to journalism in the charitable public's interest. Follow Obert on Twitter: @Obiemad
  • If I cannot get a program by streaming, torrent, or by my over-the-air aerial, I just don’t watch it. Most commercial programs are total crap anyway. Thanks anyway….