Bell Canada Seeks Reversal Of CRTC's Net Neutrality Ruling In Federal Court

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Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bell Canada has gone to court to overturn a ruling from Canada’s telecom watchdog that requires the media giant to price competing streaming services at the same rates as its own.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruled last month that Bell had been “unlawfully” setting a double standard by exempting its $5-a-month Bell Mobile TV app from download limits it places on subscribers to its mobile network.

That ruling stemmed from a 2013 complaint to the CRTC by activist Ben Klass, which argued that Bell in effect was marking up prices for competing streaming services by as much as 800 per cent.

Bell filed a lawsuit Friday in the Federal Court of Appeal, the Globe and Mail reported, arguing that the CRTC was wrong to issue its decision under the authority of the Telecommunications Act, because its Bell Mobile TV app is a broadcasting service.

“Bell Mobility itself acquires, aggregates, packages and markets Bell Mobile TV content before retransmitting it to subscribers,” the court filing stated, as quoted at the Globe.

But when Bell provides access to competing streaming services, it is acting solely as an internet provider and not a broadcaster, the filing argued.

The CRTC gave Bell until April 29 to change its pricing plans, but the company intends to file for an injunction that would stop the requirement from coming into force, according to a spokesperson.

Bell's move has some champions of net neutrality upset.

Bell is doing everything in its power to make the Internet more like cable TV,” said Josh Tabish, campaigns manager at OpenMedia, which was an intervenor in the CRTC complaint. “They want the power to pick and choose what we see by forcing competing services into a more expensive toll lane online. Immediate action is needed to stop these discriminatory practices.”

In its ruling in January, the CRTC said Bell — along with Quebec telecom Videotron — “were giving certain unlawful preferences to their mobile TV services.”

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais echoed the fears of many net neutrality supporters that telecom providers could use their position as gate-keepers of media content to prevent innovation in media products by giving their own products an advantage.

The CRTC ruling was about “our ability to access content equally and fairly, in an open market that favours innovation and choice,” Blais said.

No more tracking customers who 'opt out'

Bell recently reversed another policy that had been the subject of controversy among consumers' advocates: It has agreed not to track users who opt out of its "relevant ads" program.

The company attracted negative attention from privacy advocates when it announced that it would track the web surfing, phone and TV viewing habits of its subscribers even if they opt out of the targeted ad program.

Bell disclosed in a regulatory filing that it would no longer track those subscribers who opt out.

But privacy advocates say the standard for tracking subscribers should be even tougher, and subscribers should not have to opt out of the program. They say not tracking subscribers should be the default.

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