On Monday, Canada's federal telecommunications regulator debates the principle of net neutrality—the idea that every online service should be equally accessible in terms of connection speed and data costs.
It's fitting that this hearing takes place on Halloween, because the idea that one of Canada's telecoms could favour a certain music streaming service, for example, over another—by making Spotify free to use, while Apple Music eats away at your data plan, for example—is pretty spooky.
If the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) rules that such practices are acceptable, then it would allow companies to promote some services over others by not counting them against users' data.
Monday's CRTC hearing, which is being held in Gatineau, Quebec, stems from complaints about Quebec-based provider Videotron's Unlimited Music service for mobile customers. The service allows subscribers to access streaming sites like Spotify and Google Play without using any of their data. But if you use Apple Music, for example, you're out of luck.
Going into the hearing, Telus and Bell Canada have come out as being in favour of such practices. Bell, for its part, wrote in a letter to the CRTC that differential pricing, as the practice is known, is "pervasive in the global economy," so presumably it should also be allowed here. Rogers was the sole member of the "big three" that dominate Canada's telecom market to send a letter to the CRTC stating its support for upholding the principle of net neutrality.
"We believe that allowing differential pricing that has the effect of impeding the consumption of licensed commercial radio services on mobile and Internet platforms," Rogers' filing to the CRTC states, "would affect the ability of these services to reach key audiences that are now consuming their audio content on these platforms."
There is a significant precedent within Canada and outside of its borders to uphold net neutrality.
Last year, for example, the CRTC ruled that an effort by Bell and Videotron to promote their own services through differential pricing was unlawful. The only difference between that case and the one now being debated is that this time Videotron is promoting third-party services instead of its own, but using the same techniques to do so.
The question around differential pricing and net neutrality was more or less settled in the US in June, when an appeals court upheld an FCC decision that prohibited the blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization of services by telecoms. At the time, the court described net neutrality as a "needlessly contentious issue."
Canada, ever the laggard, is just now confronting the same debate and the same pressure from telecoms that the US did months ago. We Canadians peg a lot of our identity to being Not-America, but at least in this case, we'd do well to follow the lead of our Southern neighbours.
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