A Win For Net Neutrality: CRTC Shuts Down 'Unlawful' Bell, Videotron Practice

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CRTC Commissioner Jean-Pierre Blais has come out stronbly in favour of net neutrality principles in ruling against Bell and Videotron over data-charge exemptions for their own apps. | CP

Calling the practice “unlawful,” Canada’s telecom watchdog has forbidden Bell Media and Videotron from exempting their own apps from data charges.

It’s a move that consumers’ rights activists are calling a landmark ruling in favour of the principle of net neutrality.

The ruling stems from a complaint filed by researcher and blogger Ben Klass in 2013, alleging that Bell was violating net neutrality principles by offering its Bell Mobile TV app for $5 a month, with 5 gigabytes of data thrown in that doesn’t count towards data charges.

In effect, Klass argued, that meant Bell was charging 800 per cent more for data used through Netflix than through its own app.

Soon after, public interest groups filed a similar complaint against Videotron and its illico.tv service.

“The CRTC supports innovation on new platforms,” CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais said in a speech Thursday, but Bell and Videotron “were giving certain unlawful preferences to their mobile TV services.”

Blais echoed the talking points of net neutrality supporters in defending the decision, arguing that the decision is about “our ability to access content equally and fairly, in an open market that favours innovation and choice.

Blais said the CRTC applauds the innovative products telecoms are putting forward, “but when the impetus to innovate steps on the toes of the principle of fair and open access to content, we will intervene.”

In a statement Thursday, Klass said it was “heartening” to see the CRTC “strike down this unfair practice.” Noted tech law expert Michael Geist called the ruling a “ringing endorsement” of the principles of net neutrality.

The telecom regulator has given Bell until April 29 to eliminate its preferential data charges for Bell Mobile TV, and Videotron has until March 31 to confirm its planned removal of the offending app.

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