In mid-October I co-authored a submission to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) with Tamir Israel, a staff lawyer with the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) at the University of Ottawa. Our submission was filed in support of complaints issued by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Vaxination Informatique against Vidéotron’s (a subsidiary of Québecor Media Inc.) newly introduced Unlimited Music service.
The complaints arose after Vidéotron announced Unlimited Music, a mobile platform that offers access to a curated list of music streaming services over Vidéotron’s mobile data network without imposing data fees on the customers (often termed ‘zero rating’). In our submission, we argue that offerings of this kind raise concerns of undue preference, unjust discrimination and, more broadly, net neutrality, as addressed by the CRTC Commission in Broadcasting and Telecom Decision CRTC 2015-26 and in the Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2009-657 (extended to mobile Internet access in Telecom Decision CRTC 2010-445). By zero rating specific services or categories thereof, Vidéotron is leveraging its role as a gateway to network content in order to provide its chosen services an advantage that no other competing service can match. Doing so disrupts the neutral ecosystem that is necessary for digital innovation to continue to flourish. It also raises serious ancillary privacy questions.
Our submission begins by arguing that Vidéotron’s mobile usage billing practices constitute an economic Internet traffic management practice and that zero rating services such as Unlimited Music are generally problematic. We then discuss the likely role of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technologies in facilitating Vidéotron’s zero rating practices. Next, we broadly argue that Vidéotron’s Unlimited Music offering is preferential and discriminatory; in addition to constituting an undue and unreasonable preference for certain service offerings, it unjustly discriminates against complementary offerings from other online vendors that include music in their broader product offering. Moreover, there is the potential for Vidéotron to discriminate against services that are mislabelled as ‘unlawful’. We conclude by discussing some of the other potential implications of Vidéotron’s Unlimited Music service.
Tamir is staff lawyer with the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, where he conducts research and advocacy on various digital rights-related topics, with a focus on online privacy and anonymity, net neutrality, intellectual property, intermediary liability, spam, e-commerce, and consumer protection generally.
Dr. Christopher Parsons received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Guelph, and his Ph.D from the University of Victoria. He is currently the Managing Director of the Telecom Transparency Project and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Citizen Lab, in the Munk School of Global Affairs.
Photo credit: Red by André Hofmeister (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/iKN6oT