On Thursday afternoon, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the country's federal telecom regulator, dropped a bombshell ruling on the status of net neutrality—the principle that all web services should be treated equally by providers. And, blessedly, it's good news.
The CRTC ruled that "[internet] service providers should treat data traffic equally to foster consumer choice, innovation and the free exchange of ideas," a CRTC news release states. What this means is that service providers won't be able to privilege certain services over others—say, YouTube or Apple Music—by letting you use them without dinging your data plan. This is a practice generally known as "zero-rating" or differential pricing.
Differential pricing contradicts the principle of net neutrality because it allows service providers to leverage their privileged position to decide which services are most attractive to their customers, effectively discriminating against others.
The CRTC's decision is welcome news as its sister organization in the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is right now starting to roll back some of its previous commitments to net neutrality.
The CRTC ruling originated from complaints against Quebec-based provider Videotron's unlimited music streaming service, which launched in 2015. The service allowed subscribers to stream music from third-party apps without it counting against their data plans.
Those complaints sparked a series of hearings on the practice of differential pricing. At the time of the hearings in the fall of last year, two of Canada's "big three" telecom providers came out in support of differential pricing—Telus and Bell—while Rogers was the sole dissenting voice among the trio.
The CRTC also ruled on the Videotron case today, and in line with its decision on net neutrality and its new framework for evaluating differential pricing schemes—also published on Thursday—it ordered Videotron to come into compliance with the law, which is a nice way of saying it should stop offering its unlimited music service as it stands. The company has yet to release a public statement responding to the order.
My friends, it's a good day to be a hoser.
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