In another stunningly logical move, the CRTC has kneecapped the big phone company attempts to incentivize customers to buy their service unfairly. We shouldn’t be surprised that the mobile carriers want to bolster their revenues, or indeed leverage their portfolio of services. What is surprising yet again, is a regulator with the balls to call them on it, and instead of wagging their fingers sternly, actually taking pen to paper to forbid it.

The inexorable rise of pay-as-you-go TV mobile content, gave rise to inevitable tariffs. The CRTC didn’t like that one bit. The “unfair practice” is a simple one, offering mobile TV services similar to Netflix, but exempting their own services of data charges. In an environment where most data plans are not flat rate, this means apples to apples comparisons of plans wouldn’t work. By design that is.

Everyone would be a captive to their provider, making bundling services the only reasonable financial option, and that’s not something everyone wants to do. I recall someone telling me they used over 200GB of data watching streaming video on their LTE phone, and if data “usage” was billed per GB, you could easily imagine competing services being locked out. It could be worse still, imagine if you had an actual bandwidth “cap” that stopped you going over, suddenly your mobile internet is done for the month, unless you upgrade to a higher plan.

The situation is almost the same as when government offices charge you $1 a page to use their photocopier. They know you have huge disincentives not to pay the exorbitant fee, and most people accept it as the part of the cost for the other services, which are already expensive enough. The primary disincentive is not knowing where the nearest other photocopying place is, or not wanting to lose your spot in the 2 hour line, and probably worrying about the ridiculous parking meter charges for being downtown during the whole ordeal. This is user captivity at it’s finest.

A miffed Bell Mobility customer, Ben Klass, lodged a complaint to the CRTC, claiming this new offering makes YouTube videos up to 800% more expensive, than watching the same content through Bell Media’s channel. Naturally, Bell Media argued that phone internet is nothing like computer internet, how can it be, it’s on a phone! Apparently this wasn’t very convincing, and the same regulation was applied. The CRTC in their wisdom, upheld his complaint.

In doing so the CRTC also effectively tore down any artificial divisions between the various methods of delivering the same data. It is something the FCC in the U.S. has been unable to do in the face of intense lobbying. The FCC seems to struggle with the distinction of “telecommunications service” versus “information service” because they are regulated differently, “information” being barely regulated at all.

More importantly, it also sets the ground rules for future service delivery. These artificial barriers can stifle technological innovation, or even limit the growth of dynamic upstarts with great ideas, and thereby delaying infrastructure investment by the telcos as long as economically possible. So the ramifications of neutrality are far reaching. The regulation could even be seen as economic stimulus, at the expense of the established carriers. Which is really the basis for all anti-monopoly laws as well.

At its core, this decision isn’t so much about Bell or Vidéotron, it’s about all of us and our ability to access content equally and fairly, in an open market that favours innovation and choice. The CRTC always wants to ensure ­— and this decision supports this goal ­— that Canadians have fair and reasonable access to content.Jean-Pierre Blais, CRTC chair

Bell Media for it’s part, didn’t take the decision lying down. They vigorously pointed out the obvious, while refusing to acknowledge 12 of 43 channels available in their package, a good 20%, are in fact owned by Bell Media. You can almost feel them squirm uttering the words.

There’s a hint here that the government believes Bell Mobile TV delivers only Bell Media content, they should know we offer mobile TV content from all of Canada’s leading broadcasters in English and French.Jason Laszlo, Bell spokesman

That’ll teach ’em Jason!

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