Support for consumer groups’ complaint against Videotron is unexpected given past violations.
Rogers Net Neutrality:
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Net neutrality advocates are getting an unexpected ally in the form of Rogers Communications, Canada’s largest wireless carrier and one of its biggest internet service providers.
The company is on Wednesday filing a submission with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that supports a complaint brought forward by consumer advocates against Quebec-based wireless carrier and cable ISP Videotron.
The consumer groups, led by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, in September complained about Videotron’s Unlimited Music. The offering lets subscribers to premium wireless plans use certain music streaming services without them counting against monthly data caps.
Exempting applications from usage caps – whether wired or wireless – is known as zero rating. Consumer advocates and net neutrality proponents say such schemes are offside because they give special privileges to the chosen applications; disadvantages those that aren’t picked; and puts carriers or ISPs in gatekeeper positions.
These are all arguments Rogers is making in its submission.
“The Unlimited Music service offered by Videotron is fundamentally at odds with the objective of ensuring that there is an open and non-discriminatory marketplace for mobile audio services,” the company’s CRTC filing says.
“Videotron is, in effect, picking winners and losers by adopting a business model that would require an online audio service provider (including Canadian radio stations that stream content online) to accept Videotron’s contractual requirements in order to receive the benefit of having its content zero-rated.”
Rogers’ position might not be surprising considering the company owns a host of radio stations across the country. Many have internet streaming options that aren’t being exempted from Videotron’s data charges. Currently, only eight streaming services – Rdio, Stingray, Spotify, Google Play, 8Tracks, Groove, Songza and Deezer – are qualifying.
At the same time, the company’s statements are entirely surprising considering that few major wireless carriers or ISPs oppose zero rating. Many such companies around the world are very much for it, with only smaller, alternative ISPs and carriers sometimes voicing opposition.
Zero rating – which often involves cutting deals with the larger companies’ whose services are being exempted from data caps – in many cases represents another potential revenue stream for internet providers.
Rogers’ unexpected support of net neutrality brings up several ironies. Going back to 2008, the company was found by researchers to be the world’s worst throttler of internet traffic. Slowing down certain kinds of traffic – particularly file-sharing – was ultimately kiboshed by regulators in many countries, including Canada, as a clear violation of net neutrality.
More recently, Rogers was also part of a group of wireless providers including Videotron and Bell that was offering zero-rated video content on cellphones. Rogers stopped the practice in August last year after consumer groups and advocates complained to the CRTC. The regulator ordered Bell and Videotron to cease favouring their own content earlier this year.
The CRTC may have opened the door for the current music complaint as its ruling seemed aimed more against wireless carriers favouring their own content than that of third parties. The regulator is probably going to have to close that door now that even a major carrier and ISP is arguing the downside.
Zero rating, it seems, is probably not going to be tolerated in Canada in any form, much to the delight of net neutrality advocates.
There’s also the irony that, although Rogers appears to have seen the error of its previous net neutrality-violating ways, it’s actively flexing its vertically integrated muscles. The company is currently plying wireless and internet customers with free subscriptions to either Shomi, its jointly owned video streaming service, Next Issue – the magazine app it has a stake in – or Spotify, with whom it has cut a deal.
None of those services are being exempted from usage caps but, as I’ve argued in the past, there isn’t a clear reason as to why zero rating of data is bad but subsidizing the services themselves is okay. At the end of the day, either way, the carrier or ISP is picking and choosing which services are cheaper for consumers to use.
The last irony is found in the fact that Rogers and Google are again on different sides of the net neutrality argument, except that their roles have been reversed.
Back in the late aughts, when Rogers was throttling whatever file-sharing traffic it could find, Google was the internet’s most outspoken supporter of net neutrality. Its entire business model relied on the internet being free for people to use, unfettered by gatekeeper ISPs.
But the search company went largely quiet on the issue five years ago after helping Verizon argue for exempting wireless services from net neutrality rules in the United States, mainly because of its interest in getting its Android operating system off the ground.
Advocates say Google also recently argued against a strong net neutrality framework in India.
Here in Canada, it’s not nearly as ambiguous. The company’s partaking in Videotron’s Unlimited Music offering with Google Play is a clear condoning of zero rating as a practice.
Google may or may not have actively sought out a deal with Videotron, but either way, the company hasn’t pulled Google Play from Unlimited Music on net neutrality principles. Google sure doesn’t look like it’s opposed to zero rating, does it?
So many ironies. It’s enough to make one’s head spin.