Rogers sides with PIAC

A few months ago, Videotron launched a mobile audio streaming service known as “Unlimited Music“:

Listen to music as often as you like, without ever worrying about your data usage.

The Unlimited Music service currently provides un-metered access to Spotify, Rdio, Google Play Music, Songza, Deezer, 8tracks, Groove and Stingray Music, with a plan to add other audio applications. The service is available at no additional charge to Videotron mobile customers who have an LTE SIM and subscribe to an “All-inclusive Canada-wide plan” with 2GB, 4GB or 6GB of data.

Last month, a number of parties, including the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, filed a complaint to the CRTC, claiming that the service contravenes Section 27(2) of the Telecommunications Act, violates net neutrality rules (the CRTC’s 2009 Internet Traffic Management Practices – ITMP – Framework), and the CRTC’s “Mobile TV” decision, because it exempts certain subscribers from paying fees for certain types of data.

Section 27(2) forbids carriers from unjustly discriminating or giving an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subjecting any party to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage, in relation to the provision of a telecommunications service. PIAC had claimed that Videotron is subjecting subscribers who consume other audiovisual content that is
unaffiliated with “Unlimited Music” service to data charges, which has the effect of imposing an undue and unreasonable disadvantage to those subscribers and their streaming services.

Today, Rogers threw its support behind PIAC, claiming that Rogers is among the groups being subjected to a disadvantage. Rogers says that it has conformed to the CRTC’s Mobile TV ruling and it is at a competitive disadvantage if Videotron doesn’t play by the same rules. Further, Rogers argues that its radio stations are providing streaming services that are being subjected a disadvantage because their listeners continue to pay data charges.

The decision to favour certain types of audio services carried on its wireless network and to treat the data from those services differently than the data of other audio and audiovisual services, and online services in general, represents “the thin edge of the wedge” in ensuring the integrity of Canada’s net neutrality rules.

By acting as a gatekeeper and selecting which audio services receive special zero-rated data usage treatment on its wireless network, Videotron has conferred upon consumers of these services, as well as upon the five audio streaming services that make up Unlimited Music, an undue and unreasonable preference. At the same time, Videotron has subjected their customers who subscribe to other audio content services, these other audio services and wireless competitors to an undue and unreasonable disadvantage.

Rogers support of PIAC on this file is an interesting development, but it may be motivated by wanting to be sure that it can continue to monetize data usage from streaming services. In an interview with the Globe and Mail last month, Rogers CEO Guy Laurence said that he wants to encourage wireless customers to use more mobile data. “Guy Laurence said Monday that he didn’t even consider offering unlimited data usage for Spotify Premium … because the whole point was to encourage subscribers to get comfortable with using more mobile data.”

A lot of plans these days, voice is virtually free, texts are virtually free – you’ve got to pay the bills somehow, right? So we’re paying for it through the monetization of data.

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