CRTC bans Bell, Videotron from giving their customers subsidies for watching their content on mobile devices

The Canadian Radio-television Communications Commission (CRTC) has ruled it’s no longer going to allow cellphone service providers to give special treatment to their own TV content when consumers stream it from wireless devices.

Up until now, Bell Mobility Inc. and Videotron Ltd. had given their customers exemptions on their monthly data caps from streaming TV content from their own mobile TV apps. While that sounds like a boon for their customers, it also means Bell and Videotron were encouraging them to continue watching their content, rather than offerings from competitors. After all, it costs consumers money to stream content over Netflix or YouTube using mobile data, but it only costs them $5 a month to use apps from Bell and Videotron.

Essentially, that’s a problem for net neutrality, a concept where Internet service providers are required to treat content equally as it flows through their networks – so now, the CRTC has banned the practice, according to a story published in the Globe and Mail. This morning, the regulatory body told Bell it would have to scrap its pricing practice by the end of April, and Videotron was told to confirm it had removed one of its apps by the end of March.

In a speech made earlier today in London, Ont., the Globe quoted CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais as saying the decision wasn’t “so much about Bell or Videotron. It’s about all of us and our ability to access content equally and fairly.”

“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,” he said. “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.”

It’s taken about a year for the CRTC to reach its decision. In January 2014, it combined three complaints launched by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Ben Klass, a Manitoba grad student, ultimately looking at apps from Bell, Videotron, and Rogers Communications Inc.

As a response to the complaints, Videotron launched a new iPhone app that would bill its users based on how much data they used, and it promised to phase out its apps for BlackBerry and Android. Rogers also stopped providing a $5 add-on for its mobile TV app. However, Bell did not make any changes to its app.

In other CRTC news today, the agency has announced it will also be banning Canadian broadcasters from blacking out U.S. Super Bowl ads, starting in 2017. Canadian channels have typically substituted U.S. ads for Canadian ones, and that’s prompted complaints from consumers who actually want to see some of the top ads of the year during gameday.

Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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