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Regulators Want to Know Why Vidéotron Has Room for Unlimited Data for Some Apps, Not Others

videotron mobileThe Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is asking some hard questions of Quebec-based mobile provider Vidéotron, which began zero-rating preferred partner music streaming services last summer that allow customers to stream all the music they want without it counting against their data cap.

The CRTC is examining whether the practice violates Canada’s Net Neutrality policies, which insist all content be treated equally.

“If, as Vidéotron has stated, congestion is manageable and there is no meaningful risk of service degradation as a result of offering Unlimited Music service, explain why Vidéotron did not either increase or eliminate data usage caps for your broader customer base instead of zero-rating certain applications or services,” the CRTC has asked.

Unlimited Music allows customers to stream Spotify, Google Play Music, Deezer and Canadian-owned Stingray Music without it counting against a customer’s allowance. Other streaming services do count, potentially putting them at a competitive disadvantage.

videotron_coul_anglais_webObservers say zero-rating enhances a customer’s perception that data has a measurable financial value, often arbitrarily assigned by competitors in a marketplace. If providers charge an average of $10 per gigabyte, customers will gradually accept that as the base value for wireless data, despite the fact many providers used to sell unlimited data plans for around $30. Zero rating content can be used in marketing campaigns to suggest customers are getting added value when a provider turns off the usage meter while using those services. Stream 3GB of music and a provider can claim that has a value of $30, but provided to you at “no charge.”

In the United States, most providers generally offer “bonus data” allowances in promotions instead of focusing on individual services. But T-Mobile goes a step further, also offering Music Freedom, a zero-rated music streaming service of its own.

Consumer reaction to the services are mixed. If a customer is a current subscriber to the preferred content, they often perceive a benefit from the free streaming. But customers looking to use a service not on the list may consider such plans unfair.

The CRTC will be awaiting Vidéotron’s formal answer.

Rogers Communications: Canada’s Newest Net Neutrality Advocate?!; Blasts Vidéotron for Fuzzy Caps

rogers logoCanada’s largest wireless carrier and near-largest Internet Service Provider has just become one of Canada’s largest Net Neutrality advocates. How did that happen?

In an ironic move, Alphabeatic reports Rogers Communications today filed a letter with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that supports a ban on providers exempting customers from usage caps when accessing content owned by the provider or its preferred partners.

The issue arose after Vidéotron, Quebec’s largest cable operator and significant wireless provider, began offering an Unlimited Music service that keeps the use of eight streaming audio services – Rdio, Stingray, Spotify, Google Play, 8Tracks, Groove, Songza and Deezer – from counting against a customer’s usage allowance.

videotron mobileThe practice of exempting certain preferred content from usage billing, known as “zero rating,” is a flagrant violation of Net Neutrality according to consumer groups. Rogers now evidently agrees.

“The Unlimited Music service offered by Vidéotron is fundamentally at odds with the objective of ensuring that there is an open and non-discriminatory marketplace for mobile audio services,” Rogers’ CRTC filing said. “Vidéotron is, in effect, picking winners and losers by adopting a business model that would require an online audio service provider (including Canadian radio stations that stream content online) to accept Vidéotron’s contractual requirements in order to receive the benefit of having its content zero-rated.”

The practice of zero rating can steer users to a provider’s own services or those that agree to partner with the provider, putting others at a competitive disadvantage. That is what bothers the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which calls the practice incompatible with an Open Internet.

Rogers has an interest in the fight. The company owns a number of commercial radio stations across Canada, many that stream their content over the Internet. None are exempt from Vidéotron’s caps.

Rogers’ advocacy for Net Neutrality is new for the company, and ironic. Rogers partnered with Vidéotron and Bell to offer its own zero-rated online video service for wireless customers until last August, when consumer groups complained to the CRTC about the practice.

Rogers may also be in the best position to judge others for the practice while finding a convenient loophole for itself. Its current promotions include free subscriptions to Shomi, a video streaming service, Next Issue, a magazine app, or Spotify, the well-known music streaming service. While Rogers won’t exempt your use of these services from its usage caps, it will effectively exempt you from having to pay a subscription fee for the service of your choice, which could provide the same amount of savings zero rating content would.

Vidéotron Will Offer 1Gbps Broadband Speed in Montréal

videotron_coul_anglais_webMontréal cable subscribers will soon be able to buy gigabit broadband speeds from Vidéotron after a successful pilot project demonstrated the cable company’s existing DOCSIS 3.0 network was up to the task.

“It is with great pride that we announce today that we have passed another milestone in the history of Videotron Internet service,” said Manon Brouillette, president and CEO of Vidéotron. “We have always been a trailblazer in this area. Over the past 10 years, we have introduced a series of high-speed Internet access services, each faster than the last, in order to meet consumers’ steadily expanding needs.”

Testing gigabit speeds began in a few Montréal homes and businesses earlier this year and the results have helped the cable operator optimize its network architecture and choose the correct cable modems to reliably support the service across its service area. Availability is expected sometime this year.

In 2016, Vidéotron will upgrade its network to DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which should support even faster speeds and require less network configuration to support the fastest Internet speeds.

Vidéotron has been aggressively pushing speed upgrades to its customers, largely in Québec. Fibre Hybrid 120 and Fibre Hybrid 200 Internet services are available to nearly 2.9 million households and businesses.

Vidéotron Launches 4G LTE Network in Quebec With Speeds Up to 40Mbps

Phillip Dampier September 15, 2014 Broadband Speed, Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Vidéotron, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Vidéotron Launches 4G LTE Network in Quebec With Speeds Up to 40Mbps

videotron

Vidéotron, Quebec’s largest cable operator, has switched on its upgraded 4G LTE wireless network for the benefit of its mobile customers, offering real world wireless speeds up to 40Mbps.

LTE-capable devices will automatically connect to the new wireless network immediately, boosting speeds and network performance. Customers with older devices that are LTE-compatible may need a new LTE SIM card, available at any of the company’s stores at no charge.

“At Videotron, innovation is rooted in 50 years of history,” commented Manon Brouillette, president and CEO of Vidéotron. “Today, we have reached another watershed in our progress by bringing consumers this state-of-the-art mobile network.”

Vidéotron is a smaller player in a wireless market dominated by Bell (33% market share), Rogers (29%), and Telus (28%) but has grown significantly since the 2008 spectrum auction that allowed the cable operator to build out the wireless network in launched in 2010. Today the company has more than 550,000 customers and between 10-13 percent of the market, mostly in Quebec where Vidéotron’s network reaches 90 percent of the province.

Ottawa is watching the cable company’s performance closely, perhaps believing Vidéotron is Canada’s best hope to be the fourth largest carrier in the country. But most of the company’s wireless facilities are in Quebec and it is unknown if Vidéotron can or will be able to build a nationwide network of its own.

HissyFitWatch: Canadian Telecom Companies Annoyed Consumers Getting The Upper Hand

Phillip Dampier February 12, 2014 Bell (Canada), Canada, Cogeco, Competition, Consumer News, HissyFitWatch, Internet Overcharging, Online Video, Public Policy & Gov't, Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Vidéotron Comments Off on HissyFitWatch: Canadian Telecom Companies Annoyed Consumers Getting The Upper Hand
Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

As the United States battles back against the introduction of usage caps and rising prices for broadband service, increased competition and regulated open wholesale access to some of Canada’s largest broadband providers have given Canadians an advantage in forcing providers to cut prices and improve service.

Canadians can now easily get unlimited broadband access from one of several independent ISPs that piggyback service on cable and phone networks. Some large ISPs have even introduced all-you-can eat broadband options for customers long-capped by the handful of big players. As customers consider switching providers, cable and phone companies have been forced to cut prices, especially for their best customers. Even cell service is now up for negotiation.

The more services a customer bundles with their provider, the bigger the discount they can negotiate, say analysts who track customer retention. Bell, Rogers, Telus, and others have a major interest keeping your business, even if it means reducing your price.

“It’s far more lucrative for the telecom company to keep you there for the third or fourth service,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told AP. It cuts down on marketing, service and installation calls, he added.

Getting the best deal often depends on your services, payment history, and how long you have been a customer. Cellphone discounts are the hardest to win, but customers are getting them if they have been loyal, carry a large balance and almost never pay late.

telus shawBigger discounts can be had for television and Internet service — cable television remains immensely profitable in Canada and broadband is cheap to offer, especially in cities. Americans often pay $80 or more for digital cable television packages, Canadians pay an average of $60.

Internet service in Canada now averages $45 a month, but many plans include usage caps. It costs more to take to the cap off.

Because of Canada’s past usage cap pervasiveness, online video is not as plentiful in Canada as it is in the United States. There has been considerably less cord-cutting in the north. Despite that, Canadians are ravenous online viewers of what they can find to watch (either legally or otherwise). As usage allowances disappear or become more generous, online video and the Internet will continue to grow in importance for service providers.

Customers should negotiate with their provider for a better deal, particularly if Bell’s Fibe TV is in town. Bell has been among the most aggressive in price cutting its fiber to the neighborhood television service for new customers ready to say goodbye to Rogers or Vidéotron.

Shaw and Telus battle for market share in the west and also have room to cut customer bills and still make a handsome profit.

Montreal Prepares to Say Goodbye to Analog Cable

Phillip Dampier August 22, 2012 Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Vidéotron Comments Off on Montreal Prepares to Say Goodbye to Analog Cable

Analog cable service is on the way out in Montreal.

Vidéotron Ltd. has stopped accepting orders for analog cable service from new customers as it prepares to make the transition to all-digital operation sometime in 2013.

The cable operator, dominant in Quebec, wants to dump analog service to make room for additional HD channels and faster broadband service, and although the company has retained a few dozen analog channels in some areas for the benefit of hotel operators and budget-minded seniors, the time has come to turn the lights out on the 60 year old technology.

Vidéotron is transitioning its customers hanging on to analog service in chunks, according to a report in the Gazette.  The vast majority of those customers are seniors, but hotel rooms also comprise a substantial percentage of the 412,000 holdouts.

Vidéotron experimented with a partial transition to digital in the Gatineau region, cutting analog service to just 30 channels. To entice customers to switch to digital, Vidéotron offered free digital set-top boxes to existing analog customers and special promotional packages that gave them digital service at the analog price. Company officials say it is unlikely customers across the Island of Montreal would get similar deals, but some price concessions on equipment are likely.

Vidéotron hopes the transition will make room for up to 100 new HD channels on a system that currently has just 71. The cable operator is facing increasing competition from Bell’s Fibe TV and satellite service, which provides a larger selection of HD channels, particularly for Anglophones in the province.

New Cell Tower Nightmare: Industry Canada Math Intrudes on Reality

Phillip Dampier June 13, 2012 Canada, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Vidéotron, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on New Cell Tower Nightmare: Industry Canada Math Intrudes on Reality

Canadians: Get ready for more cell towers in your neighborhood.

Industry Canada’s fuzzy math threatens to allow cell phone companies to erect new cell towers in some of the country’s most scenic areas, which often coincidentally offer the best reception.

Residents in Pontiac, Quebec are learning that first-hand, as Industry Canada approves a controversial proposal from Vidéotron to install an 82-meter cell tower in the middle of a vista that tourist officials use in brochures to promote travel in the Ottawa River region.

It turns out the regulator now only considers an antenna’s base as a factor in determining whether to approve a new cell tower. That base amounts to just one square meter, “too small” by Industry Canada’s standards to conduct an environmental assessment. No matter that the antenna will tower nearly 270 feet into the skyline. Industry Canada is only interested in measuring the three legs of the tower (each leg is evaluated individually, not collectively), and at just one tiny meter, it isn’t worth their time.

That means local residents will have to contend with a new tower 25-stories high. As the Ottawa Citizen puts it, Vidéotron’s tower is smaller in the government’s eye than any pre-fabricated garden shed from Home Depot, which often requires a permit to install.

The new tower will be installed on Hurdman Heights, much to the consternation of area residents and naturalists opposed to its presence, ruining what many call the most scenic place in the region.

The local government of Pontiac has opposed the new Vidéotron tower since it was first announced, but the cable/wireless company pulled an end run around the municipality claiming there was a negotiating impasse and local officials would not meet to work it out, a good enough reason for the regulator to approve the new tower. Pontiac Mayor Eddie McCann says there was no impasse and the local council has been trying hard to reach a deal with the telecommunications company and never cut off talks:

“I myself had two or three meetings on sites with the representatives of Vidéotron,” he said. “As far as saying we were not responsive or willing to discuss — it’s pretty near stupid. We even offered our own municipal land as an option but they said it was too far between their existing towers.” He was exploring other possible sites as well.

“In fact it was Industry Canada that were non-responsive to us,” he said. “They accepted the proposal of Vidéotron without consulting us at all.”

And he believes Industry Canada could impose the same authority in any municipality.

“Certainly for anybody from Industry Canada to say that the municipality wasn’t interested in working out an arrangement was just ridiculous.”

Resident James Riordan wrote to Minister Christian Paradis last month objecting that the “impasse” was a misunderstanding somewhere, and had in fact never occurred.

A letter from the minister’s office tells him to take his objection to Vidéotron, and adds “the Department considers the matter closed.”

Vidéotron Announces 200Mbps Service for Quebec City, Beating Bell’s 175Mbps

Phillip Dampier June 4, 2012 Bell (Canada), Broadband Speed, Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Vidéotron Comments Off on Vidéotron Announces 200Mbps Service for Quebec City, Beating Bell’s 175Mbps

Quebec City residents are enjoying the benefits of an Internet speed race between incumbent cable operator Vidéotron Ltée and telephone company Bell, with both bringing some of Canada’s fastest Internet speeds to the provincial capital.

Vidéotron Ltée announced it will introduce 200Mbps service in the city after completing a network upgrade. The company was undoubtedly responding to increasing competition from Bell, which is installing fiber optic upgrades in the city and selling speeds up to 175Mbps to area consumers and businesses.

The cable company has faced Bell’s Fibe TV service and has lost customers as a result. Now, Vidéotron is trying to regain its footing with upgrades of its own, including the introduction of Illico, which expands on-demand options and provides flexible access to recorded shows on computers, phones, and tablet devices.

Bell’s personal video recorder (PVR) set top box lets customers watch recorded programs on any television in the home, and can also record multiple concurrent shows. Vidéotron hopes Illico will help expand viewing options further for their customers.

Vidéotron Secretly Filming Technicians on Fake Service Calls; Watch the Results

Phillip Dampier May 10, 2012 Canada, Consumer News, Video, Vidéotron 3 Comments

Vidéotron, Quebec’s largest cable operator, is secretly filming some of their technicians on fake service calls to verify they are providing professional service to the company’s customers.

But instead of keeping the results to themselves, the company is publishing the resulting videos to their website for customers to enjoy.

A total of 21 technicians were put to the test, and the company set up some outrageous challenges for them to overcome, starting with a single woman trying to convince her mother the technician was her boyfriend, with comical results.

While we are unlikely to see the Vidéotron technicians that failed the tests, the company has launched a publicity campaign to praise itself for excellent service.

“Our conscientious technicians are ambassadors for Vidéotron and its values,” said Manon Brouillette, president of consumer markets. “We are very proud of them. They have achieved an impressive 96% customer satisfaction rate and this campaign is a tip of the hat to their great work.”

Putting technicians to the test, especially those working for third-party subcontractors, might not be a bad idea for some U.S. cable companies to try, especially after some of those technicians were later arrested for sexual assault, theft, and other crimes.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Videotron -- The technician trap.flv

Watch Vidéotron’s first edition of its hidden camera trap for company technicians, when a single woman gets in over her head with a little white lie.  (2 minutes)

 

Cell Phone Companies Hoarding Cash/Credit for Spending Blitz on Canadian Spectrum

Phillip Dampier October 13, 2011 Astroturf, Broadband Speed, Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Mobilicity, Public Policy & Gov't, Rogers, Vidéotron, Wind Mobile (Canada), Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Cell Phone Companies Hoarding Cash/Credit for Spending Blitz on Canadian Spectrum

Upcoming wireless spectrum auctions are critically important for some of Canada’s newest players in the cell phone marketplace.  Most are working hard to make sure they have plenty to spend to secure new frequencies for advanced wireless services that will help them remain competitive with larger players.

Globalive Holdings, the parent company of Wind Mobile, has convinced backers to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in financing, so long as all of the money is spent on acquiring wireless spectrum.

Wind’s nearly 400,000 customers will appreciate the additional room for growth, and new customers may keep Wind in mind for advanced 4G networks most Canadian providers intend to build and expand into the new spectrum they acquire at an auction next year.

Much of the funding, estimated to approach nearly a half-billion dollars, is coming from Wind’s parent entities, Egypt-based Orascom Telecom and the European conglomerate VimpelCom that acquired Orascom earlier this year.  Because the Canadian government is expected to set-aside some of the valued 700MHz spectrum exclusively for bidding among new entrants in the market, Wind could walk away a big winner, particularly if other similar-sized competitors Mobilicity and Vidéotron Ltee./Quebecor have trouble raising enough money to remain competitive in the bidding.

As far as Canada’s largest cell companies are concerned, set-asides are unnecessary and they prefer a winner-take-all auction.  Rogers, in particular, has been lobbying hard to convince Canadian officials it needs access to the 700MHz spectrum up for auction to roll out service in rural communities and upgrade networks in larger cities.

Those who feel Canada’s cell phone marketplace is already too concentrated have little sympathy for Rogers’ point of view, and expect an auction free-for-all will mean the largest incumbent players will walk away with everything they can bid on.

Among smaller players, assuming the set-asides are in place, analysts expect Wind will probably secure the most spectrum, but Vidéotron is expected to stay competitive and walk away with at least some frequencies for use in its home province of Quebec.  Big losses among the smaller players could fuel calls for additional mergers and acquisitions among those carriers deemed to have been left behind.

The Canadian government is expected to be the biggest winner of all, netting a potential $3-4 billion from the spectrum sale.

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