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HissyFitWatch: Bell Loses Net Neutrality Case, Threatens to Bury Complaining Consumers In Legal Fees

The first "bricks of paper" arriving from Bell's attorneys in the case of Bell v. Ordinary Canadian consumers

The first legal “bricks of paper” arriving from Bell’s attorneys in the case of Bell v. Ordinary Canadian consumers arrived at the home of Jean-François Mezei of Pointe-Claire, Que.

A Manitoba university student and consumer groups who won their case against Bell’s preferential treatment of its mobile streaming video service are now being threatened with demands they personally cover Bell’s legal expenses as the phone company appeals the ruling in court.

The dispute involves Bell Mobile TV Service — a $5/mo optional add-on that allows Bell’s mobile customers to stream up to 10 hours of video programming, some of it from Bell-owned television networks like CTV, without it counting against the customer’s usage cap. Each additional hour costs $3. The service prices usage based on time, not data usage, which lets Bell stream very high quality video to customers. Competitors like Netflix do not have this option and their customers are billed based on the amount of data consumed, which is around 800 percent higher than what Bell Mobile TV charges.

University of Manitoba graduate student Benjamin Klass filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 2013 accusing Bell of violating Net Neutrality and creating an anti-competitive marketplace for online video. ​Twelve of the 43 channels available on Mobile TV — including CTV, TSN and The Movie Network — are owned by Bell Media, a subsidiary, like Bell Mobility, of the media behemoth BCE.

Klass alleged the practice was a clear violation of Canada’s laws governing broadcasting: “No Canadian carrier shall, in relation to the provision of a telecommunications service or the charging of a rate for it, unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage.”

The CRTC agreed with Klass and in late January ruled in favor of Klass’ complaint, giving Bell and Quebec-based Vidéotron (which offers a similar service) until the end of April to close them down in their present form.

BCE, the parent of Bell Mobility, told the CBC it was “shocked” by the CRTC’s ruling, suspecting the complaining groups mislead regulators into thinking Bell favored its own content over others.

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

Bell_Mobility logoLaszlo added Bell-owned content only comprises 20% of Bell Mobile TV programming and that the ruling would deprive more than 1.5 million current Bell Mobile TV subscribers from getting the service after the spring deadline to shut it down.

The CRTC and consumer groups argue that is beside the point.

“At its core, this decision isn’t so much about Bell or Vidéotron,” CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais said at a breakfast luncheon in London, Ont., in late January. “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. It may be tempting for large vertically integrated companies to offer certain perks to their customers. But when the impetus to innovate steps on the toes of the principle of fair and open access to content, we will intervene.”

Consumer group OpenMedia says Bell’s motivation isn’t to create a level playing field or provide customers with more options for online video. It’s about artificially inflating the cost of accessing services like Netflix and other independent video companies that are innovating away from the traditional pay television package.

“Bell is doing everything in its power to make the Internet more like cable TV,” said OpenMedia campaigns manager Josh Tabish. “They want the power to pick and choose what we see by forcing competing services into a more expensive toll lane online.”

Klass (Image: CBC)

Klass (Image: CBC)

Bell’s legal strategy going forward is an homage to the one American wireless companies used for years to avoid Net Neutrality.

Bell Mobility argues that Bell Mobile TV is a broadcasting service, not a telecommunications service and therefore doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Telecommunications Act.

Since the CRTC was not receptive to that argument, Bell is taking the matter to the Federal Court of Appeal, asking it to overturn the CRTC ruling and grant the company court and legal costs paid for by the Canadian consumers that brought the original complaint.

Jean-François Mezei of Pointe-Claire, Que. is among them and has been the unhappy recipient of several parcels containing “bricks of paper” from FedEx he suspects is just the beginning.

Mezei has been tweeting about ongoing developments in the case, and asked Bell, “how come you have no press release bragging about how Bell Mobility is suing individual citizens who participated in [the CRTC complaint]?”

Klass told CBC News he hasn’t yet made up his mind how to respond to the court filing, but admitted it is unnerving.

“In that regard, it really strikes me as a method of intimidation,” he said. “Right off the bat, it has a chilling effect. It appears that Bell is simply pursuing the argument, that it unsuccessfully made to the CRTC, through the court.”

HD Smorgasbord: Rogers Tells Customers to Stop Worrying and Crank Up the Streaming Video

In a complete about-face for eastern Canada’s largest cable operator, Rogers Communications is inviting customers to take the brakes off their usage and go hog-wild with high bandwidth HD streaming and downloading with an unlimited use plan.

“Whether you use shomi, Netflix, YouTube or all three as your go-to streaming service(s), if you’re a subscriber to an unlimited Rogers Internet package, you don’t have to worry about streaming video in anything other than their highest-quality settings – the image is pristine and the sound is awesome,” the company writes on its online blog.

Rogers had argued for at least five years before Canada’s telecommunications regulator that compulsory usage caps and overlimit fees were necessary to manage congestion on their networks and to make sure that heavy users pay their fair share.

Those days of congestion are evidently over because Rogers takes customers through several tutorials to teach them how to turn up their streaming settings to deliver HD and 4K video streams.

“Rogers comes very close to implying it is Netflix and YouTube that compromise the video experience of customers, despite the fact Netflix created its user-definable video playback settings precisely to help Canadians manage usage allowances from companies like Rogers,” said online video analyst Rene Guerdat. “It’s clear that competition from independent providers offering unlimited use accounts has made Rogers’ usage cap regime impossible and they were forced to market an unlimited option of their own.”

Here is Rogers’ guide for cranking up the video quality of video streams, useful for anyone else who subscribes to these services as well:

shomi

This new video-streaming service for Rogers Internet or TV customers has three video-quality settings (Good, Better, Best). Each uses different amounts of bandwidth and offers different levels of viewing quality. These settings can be individually changed for each user profile, and can be made only from the Web application via the account holder’s profile.

To check / change your stream settings

  1. In a browser, go to shomi.com and log in with your account credentials.
  2. Go to the dropdown menu at the top far-right corner of the Web page.
  3. Select ‘Manage Account and Profiles.’
  4. Select the profile that you want to edit (or create a profile if it is a new profile), and under the ‘Manage Profiles’ menu you’ll see your ‘Max Video Quality’ settings.
  5. Click ‘Edit’ and then select the video-quality setting that you want.

Note: These profile settings update all devices except your Rogers cable box (if you’re using one).

Netflix

Netflix has streaming-video playback settings that use less data (in case you have a small monthly data cap). If you’re on an unlimited Rogers Internet package, though, you can get a better experience by streaming at the highest settings. Here’s how.

To check / change your stream settings

  1. In a browser, go to Netflix.ca and sign in with your Netflix username and password.
  2. If prompted, select the appropriate user profile you want to change.
  3. In the top-right corner, click the downward arrow, then click ‘Your Account.’
  4. In the Your Profile section, click ‘Playback Settings.’
  5. Click the radio button to select the highest-quality streaming setting (‘High’), then click ‘Save.’

This setting will be your new default across all your devices. If you have multiple user profiles under your Netflix account, follow the above process for them, too.

YouTube

YouTube gives you a lot of playback control, and typically does a pretty good job of balancing video quality and connection. However, to ensure you’re seeing the best-quality video possible from YouTube, you can change the settings for the videos you watch. Here’s how.

Play a YouTube video in HD (when available)

  1. While playing a video, move your cursor over the player window. Video-player elements will appear.
  2. Click the gear icon in the lower right of the player.
  3. In the bottom of the pop-over menu that appears, click on the ‘Quality’ option.
  4. Select the highest video-quality setting and click it to apply.

Tip: Not all video content that’s uploaded to YouTube is available in full 1080p HD. If no HD option is offered, just choose the highest-quality setting that’s available.

Default to high-quality YouTube playback

Setting default playback behaviour on YouTube requires an account. If you have a Google account (Gmail, Google+, etc.), you already have everything you need.

  1. Log in to YouTube using your Google or Gmail account ID.
  2. Click on your username and, in the menu that appears, choose the gear icon. If you’re already logged in, click your profile image in the top-right corner to find the gear icon instead.
  3. In the left navigation pane, click ‘Playback.’
  4. Select ‘Always choose the best quality for my connection and player size.’
  5. Click Save in the top right.

Now, YouTube will give you the best-quality video it can, based on the above-mentioned factors. Double-click a video to launch it in full-screen and to get a full-HD version of the video, where available.

Rogers Snaps Up Another Independent Cable Company; Hamilton-based Source Cable

source-cableRogers Communications will acquire Hamilton, Ont.-area independent Source Cable in a quiet $160-million deal.

The transaction was first noticed in Rogers’ quarterly financial report to shareholders, noting that Source Cable provides cable, broadband, and phone service to only a part of the city of Hamilton. Rogers already provides service next to Source Cable’s service area so a transition to Rogers should pose few issues for eastern Canada’s biggest cable operator. The rest of greater Hamilton will continue to be served by Cogeco and Rogers in their respective service areas.

“We’re really excited about purchasing Source Cable,” said Kevin Spafford, Rogers Communications spokesperson. “We view this acquisition as a growth opportunity because the company is well run; the footprint is adjacent to our existing cable systems; they have really good penetration of cable TV and Internet services, and there is potential for new customers as the unbuilt part of the area develops.”

Subscribers are less enthusiastic.

The cable company has always been responsive to its customers and willing to pioneer new technology before larger providers like Rogers.

Source Cable customers may win some extra ethnic language programming now seen on Rogers, but will likely experience a major downgrade in how they deal with their cable provider. Source customers will eventually be exposed to Rogers’ much lower-rated customer service. Broadband customers are also likely to lose their unlimited Internet service, forced to select from Rogers’ usage-capped plans.

Source Cable was started by former city alderman Jim Campbell in 1974. Campbell died two years ago.

Source Cable's service coverage area is limited to a number of blocks in parts of Hamilton, Ont.

Source Cable’s service coverage area is limited to a number of blocks in parts of Hamilton, Ont.

 

Netflix Aggravates Canada’s Identity Crisis: Protection of Canadian Culture or Big Telecom Company Profits?

netflix caThe arrival of Netflix north of the American border has sparked a potential video revolution in Canada that some fear could renew “an erosion” of Canadian culture and self-identity as the streaming video service floods the country with American-made television and movies. But anxiety also prevails on the upper floors of some of Canada’s biggest telecom companies, worried their business models are about to be challenged like never before.

Two weeks ago, the country saw a remarkable Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hearing featuring a Netflix executive obviously not used to being grilled by the often-curt regulators. When it was all over, Netflix refused to comply with a CRTC order for information about Netflix’s Canadian customers.

Earlier today, the CRTC’s secretary general, John Traversy, declared that because of the lack of cooperation from Netflix, all of their testimony “will be removed from the public record of this proceeding on October 2, 2014.” That includes their oral arguments.

“As a result, the hearing panel will reach its conclusions based on the remaining evidence on the record. There are a variety of perspectives on the impact of Internet broadcasting in Canada, and the panel will rely on those that are on the public record to make its findings,” Mr. Traversy wrote in a nod to Canada’s own telecom companies.

Not since late 1990’s Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, who defended Canadian content with her support of a law that restricted foreign magazines from infiltrating across the border, had a government official seemed willing to take matters beyond the government’s own policy.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais threw down the gauntlet when Netflix hesitated about releasing its Canadian subscriber and Canadian content statistics to the regulator. Mr. Blais wanted to know exactly how many Canadians are Netflix subscribers and how much of what they are watching on the service originates in Canada.

With hearings underway in Ottawa, bigger questions are being raised about the CRTC’s authority in the digital age. Doug Dirks from CBC Radio’s The Homestretch talks with Michael Geist at the University of Ottawa. Sept. 19, 2014 (8:40) You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Netflix has operated below regulatory radar since it first launched service in Canada four years ago. The CRTC left the American company with an impression it had the right to regulate Netflix, but chose not to at this time. The CRTC of 2010 was knee-deep in media consolidation issues and did not want to spend a lot of time on an American service that most Canadians watched by using proxy servers and virtual private networks to bypass geographic content restrictions. But now that an estimated 30% of English-speaking Canada subscribes to Netflix, it is threatening to turn the country’s cozy and well-consolidated media industry on its head.

Ask most of the corporate players involved and they will declare this is a fight about Canada’s identity. After all, broadcasters have been compelled for years to live under content laws that require a certain percentage of television and radio content to originate inside Canada. Without such regulations, enforced by the CRTC among others, Canada would be overwhelmed by all-things-Americans. Some believe that without protection, Canadian viewers will only watch and listen to American television and music at the cost of Canadian productions and artists.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Netflix vs the CRTC 9-22-14.flv

Kevin O’Leary, Chairman, O’Leary Financial Group is furious with regulators for butting into Netflix’s online video business and threatening its presence in Canada is an effort to protect incumbent business models. From BNN-Canada. (8:45)

A viewer watches Netflix global public policy director Corie Wright testify before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in Ottawa (Image: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press)

A viewer watches Netflix’s Corie Wright testify before the CRTC. (Image: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press)

But behind the culture war is a question of money – billions of dollars in fact. Giant media companies like Rogers, Shaw, and Bell feel threatened by the presence of Netflix, which can take away viewers and change a media landscape that has not faced the kind of wholesale deregulation that has taken place in the United States since the Reagan Administration.

Before Netflix, the big Canadian networks didn’t object too strongly to the content regulations. After all, CRTC rules helped establish the Canadian Media Fund which partly pays for domestic TV and movie productions. Canada’s telephone and satellite companies also have to contribute, and they collectively added $266 million to the pot in 2013, mostly collected from their customers in the form of higher bills. Netflix doesn’t receive money from the fund and has indicated it doesn’t need or want the government’s help to create Canadian content.

“It is not in the interest of consumers to have new media subsidize old media or to have new entrants subsidize incumbents,” added Netflix’s Corie Wright. “Netflix believes that regulatory intervention online is unnecessary and could have consequences that are inconsistent with the interests of consumers,” Wright said, adding viewers should have the ability “to vote with their dollars and eyeballs to shape the media marketplace.”

That is not exactly what the CRTC wanted to hear, and Wright was off the Christmas card list for good when she directly rebuffed Mr. Blais’ requests for Netflix’s data on its Canadian customers. Wright implied the data would somehow make its way out of the CRTC’s offices and end up in the hands of the Canadian-owned broadcast and cable competitors that know many at the CRTC on a first name basis.

Does Netflix pose a threat to Canadian culture? Matt Galloway spoke with John Doyle, the Globe & Mail’s television critic, on the Sept. 22nd edition of CBC Radio’s Metro Morning show. Sept. 22, 2014 (8:31) You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Mr. Blais, obviously not used to requests being questioned, repeated demands for Netflix’s subscriber data to be turned over by the following Monday and if Netflix did not comply, he would revoke Netflix’s current exemption from Canadian content rules and bring down the hammer of regulation on the streaming service.

Blais

Blais

The deadline came and went and last week Netflix defiantly refused to comply with the CRTC’s order. A Netflix official said that while the company has responded to a number of CRTC requests, it was not “in a position to produce the confidential and competitively sensitive information, but added it was always prepared to work constructively with the commission.”

Now things are very much up in the air. Many Canadians question why the CRTC believes it has the right to regulate Internet content when it operates largely as a broadcast regulator. Public opinion seems to be swayed against the CRTC and towards Netflix. Canadian producers and writers are concerned their jobs are at risk, Canadian media conglomerates fear their comfortable and predictable future is threatened if consumers decide to spend more time with Netflix and less time with them. All of this debate occurring within the context of a discussion about forcing pay television companies to offer slimmed down basic cable packages and implement a-la-carte — pay only for the channels you want — is enough to give media executives heartburn.

To underscore the point much of this debate involves money, American TV network executives also turned up at the CRTC arguing for regulations that would compensate American TV stations for providing “free” programming on Canadian airwaves, cable, and satellite — retransmission consent across the border.

Netflix does not seem too worried it is in trouble in either Ottawa or in the halls of CRTC headquarters at Les Terrasses de la Chaudière in Gatineau, Québec, just across the Ottawa River. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Heritage Minister Shelly Glover have made it clear they have zero interest in taxing or regulating Netflix. Even if they were, the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement may make regulating Netflix a practical impossibility, especially if the U.S. decides to retaliate.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Canadian Press CRTC vs Netflix 9-19-14.mp4

Dwayne Winseck, Carleton School of Journalism and Communication, defended the role the CRTC is mandated to play by Canada’s telecommunications laws. (1:41)

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.

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