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Canada's telecom regulator rules online data be treated equally

22 April 2017

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission reinforced its position on net neutrality rules Thursday with a decision that confirms Internet providers will be treated as common carriers that can not pick favourites among the content that travels across their networks.

Differential pricing contradicts the principle of net neutrality because it allows service providers to leverage their privileged position to decide which services are most attractive to their customers, effectively discriminating against others.

"After assessing Videotron's Unlimited Music Service. the CRTC found that the company is giving an undue preference to certain consumers and music streaming services, while subjecting other consumers and content providers to an unreasonable disadvantage", the Canadian agency said. The regulator started an investigation and consultation on the music offer almost a year ago, after receiving complaints about the practice. Videotron says customers who use Unlimited Music can continue doing so "until further notice".

RBC analyst Drew McReynolds viewed the decision as neutral for Canadian telecoms, writing in a note to clients that use of differential pricing is limited.

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Regulators in Canada ruled this week that Internet service providers violate the country's net neutrality laws by exempting some data from consumers' monthly caps.

Such packages are thriving south of the border, where AT&T exempts DirectTV from mobile data charges, Verizon exempts its football streaming service Go90 and T-Mobile offers unlimited music similar to Videotron. "That way, subscribers can choose for themselves what content they want to consume".

Broadband Internet access services can improve Canadians' quality of life and empower them as citizens, creators and consumers.

"Proponents of differential pricing-which include Bell, Telus, Videotron and Facebook, which relies on zero-rating to offer its social network for free around the world-argued that the practice was good for innovation and would mean more choice and lower costs for consumers", the CBC wrote. "In any evaluation, the Commission will also consider whether there are any exceptional circumstances that demonstrate clear benefits to the public interest and/or minimal harm associated with a differential pricing practice". The CRTC rejected calls to allow zero-rating for short-term marketing programs, such as trial periods for video games, saying that such an exemption "would lead to a risk of regulatory gaming and would not mitigate the negative impacts of such practices".

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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.

A Canadian commission ruled Thursday against a wireless carrier's service that offers unlimited music to its customers.

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 CRTC recently declared that all Canadians should be able to purchase home Internet with 50Mbps download speeds and 10Mbps uploads, and it created a $750 million fund for areas where that level of Internet service isn't available.

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Canada's telecom regulator rules online data be treated equally