Zero rating move could stoke competition, but it also furthers wireless firm’s gatekeeper role.
Videotron Unlimited Music:
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Quebec wireless provider Videotron looks to be stepping into a net neutrality battle with a new unlimited music service that boasts “zero data usage.” But is the offer offside Canada’s fair internet rules? Unlike previous, similar situations involving the country’s wireless carriers, this one isn’t as cut and dried.
Back in January, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission forbid Bell and Videotron from offering wireless customers mobile TV channels without the usage counting against monthly data caps.
The regulator found the practice, known as zero rating, was unfair since Bell and Videotron customers were able to watch video sources selected by the companies – some of which were owned by the providers themselves – while other sources such as Netflix or YouTube continued to count against limits as usual.
The key to the ruling, however, was the companies’ own content. Regulators in many countries, including the United States, have left the door open to zero rating as long as it isn’t practiced in a prejudicial way. In the case of its unlimited music offer, that’s exactly the defence Videotron is using.
The company’s offer currently covers several popular music streaming services including Stingray, Rdio, Google Play, Deezer and Spotify, with Songza coming soon.
“Any other player that wants to offer, we’d be happy to accept them,” chief executive Manon Brouillette said, according to Cartt.ca.
Consumer advocates aren’t buying it. It’s “the same zero-rating nonsense [we’re seeing] around the world wrapped into a new package,” John Lawford, director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, told Cartt. PIAC was one of the complainants in the earlier mobile TV case.
On the one hand, Videotron’s offer of unlimited music could be a positive development. If the company truly does allow any music streaming service to get in on the offer, it could push competing cellphone providers to either follow suit or, even better, raise their overall monthly allotments.
On the downside, it does work against the innovation-without-permission principle on which the internet has been built. Videotron’s choice of music streaming and not, say, internet radio stations or even audiobooks or podcasts, is an arbitrary one. Why not include them, or why not other applications such as email or maps?
With unlimited music Videotron is also further cementing its role as an internet gatekeeper, where company executives get to decide which applications get preferential treatment. Favouring one’s own content is obviously worse, but this is just a step below that.
It’s that principle that has net neutrality advocates upset, and they’re probably right. The potentially positive competitive push on data allotments shouldn’t come at the expense of internet providers being allowed to pick and choose which applications get a leg up with consumers.
It’s a slippery slope that the CRTC and other regulators should close the door on.