Is a mobile television app, a form of Broadcasting or does it fall under an Internet Service? That is the exact questioning that Bell Mobility and the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal must grapple with as Bell seeks an appeal to overturn the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's (CRTC) decision on Bell's Mobile TV app. Rather than having the video streaming count against your fixed data plan, the user pays a flat $5 and can have an unlimited viewing of 10 hours of television. Last month, the CRTC ruled that Bell was giving preferential treatment to their app and it is being unfair to similar applications from other sources.
CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais cited Net Neutrality – the principle that all telecom providers must treat all content streamed through their network in an equal and unbiased fashion: "It may be tempting for large, vertically integrated companies to offer certain perks to their customers, and innovation in its purest form is to be applauded. But when the impetus to innovate steps on the toes of the principle of fair and open access to content, we will intervene. We've got to keep the lanes of our bridges unobstructed so that everyone can cross."
OpenMedia learned over the weekend that Bell Mobility filed the motion to have the decision reversed and their Campaigns Manager Josh Tabish said this about Bell: "It took over a year of unpaid hard work from citizens like Ben Klass (he originally complained about the practice as being unfair) to convince policy-makers that Bell should not be allowed to artificially inflate the price of competing apps and services. And now, instead of listening to Canadians and the CRTC, Bell is dragging the little guy to court so they can regain the power to markup independent services like Netflix by up to 800%." Tabish continued: "Bell is doing everything in its power to make the Internet more like cable TV. They want the power to pick and choose what we see by forcing competing services into a more expensive toll lane online. Immediate action is needed to stop these discriminatory practices, and move us in a direction that improves choice – that means splitting network infrastructure off from the telecom giants to create a level playing field. Over 30,000 Canadians have called for exactly this, and we delivered their message to the CRTC back in December."
It was back in January that the CRTC ruled that Bell (and other companies) must stop exempting their own services from the data caps by April 29, 2015. Bell counters in its appeal that its own mobile TV app – which more than 1.5 million subscribers use – is actually a broadcasting service and therefore, is exempt from the Telecom Act. However, when Bell provides access to the third party video streaming services, such as Netflix, Bell is merely acting as an internet service provider. Therefore, those services fall under the Telecom Act.
Geoff White, counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said "In the broader context this represents another instance where providers of telecom services who also own media assets are taking one view of the rules to favour the latter via the former, in a way that, beyond being unlawful in PIAC's view, harms competition by independent service providers."
Mr. White's argument appears to be spot on – the rules cannot be changed or bent to suit Bell's own app – the ruling must apply equally to all media providers on the internet with respect to data charges. Please hit us up on our Google+ Page and let us know how you feel about Bell's argument…as always, we would love to hear from you.