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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.”

4K Ultra HD Television Arrives Via Satellite; DISH Network Adding ‘4K Joey’ Set Top Box

4kjoey

That is DISH’s CEO banging the drum beside a panoply of kangaroos. (Image courtesy: Gizmodo)

The ultra high-definition, bandwidth chewing 4K television standard has arrived and like HDTV before it, the first place most Americans will get to sample the new standard is over satellite television.

DISH Network is planning to introduce HDMI/HDCP 4K television owners to its new 4K Joey this year — a souped-up set-top box that can handle the high demands of 4K video.

DISH is using a Broadcom dual-core chipset and 7448 ARM processor that can handle the next standard in high-definition viewing.

While DISH set-top boxes will be ready for 4K, many cable and DSL broadband networks in the United States will face difficulties handling the online video demands that 4K video will place on their networks. In tests, watching an average movie required a minimum of a maxed out 10Mbps broadband connection. Live programming, particularly sports, required considerably more broadband speed to keep up. Few DSL networks will be able to sustain more than a handful of customers attempting to stream 4K video before neighborhood nodes become overwhelmed. Even the DOCSIS cable broadband standard still relies on shared bandwidth, and a few video aficionados in the neighborhood could pose significant challenges and speed slowdowns for other customers in the area.

Besides satellite, only fiber optic broadband will be ready to handle the practical requirements of streaming 4K video without significant upgrades.

dish logoDISH’s plans to stream video content over the Internet could one day also include 4K programming, but viewers are likely to run smack into usage caps and usage billing that ISPs are using to deter online video from gutting cable television revenue as well as further monetizing already highly profitable broadband.

Downloading just three 4K movies consumed 90GB and took more than a day to download, even with Comcast’s 100Mbps broadband service. In usage-capped markets, fewer than a dozen 4K movies would eat your entire monthly allowance. Each additional movie would subject Comcast customers to overlimit fees averaging around $6 per title.

Although DISH will offer a set-top box to handle 4K viewing, content producers are still waiting to see whether the public embraces the next HD standard before investing heavily in programming delivered using the new standard. DISH would only promise content from “several providers” would be forthcoming by the time the 4K Joey is released during the second quarter.

Welcome to 2015; Another Year Fighting for a Square Deal for Essential Broadband Service

Phillip Dampier January 5, 2015 Editorial & Site News No Comments
Phillip Dampier

Phillip Dampier

Welcome to 2015!

This is the seventh year Stop the Cap! has fought for better broadband across North America and beyond. Whether your provider is Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Rogers, Bell, AT&T, Verizon or a (dwindling) number of other cable and telephone companies, there is plenty of room for improvement.

When we began in the summer of 2008, Frontier Communications was contemplating a usage cap of just 5GB a month on their broadband service. A year later Time Warner Cable market tested caps as high as 40GB a month. For almost as long as we’ve existed, Comcast has believed 250GB a month was all most customers ever needed. Rogers’ most popular Internet package today offers 60GB a month, despite the fact Canadians on average watch more online video than anyone else. AT&T thinks 150GB a month is fine for DSL and 250GB is all you’d need as a U-verse customer. Verizon doesn’t see a need for limits on either its DSL or fiber optic networks. Neither does Cablevision.

Usage caps and so-called “usage-based billing” continue to be one of the most under-reported stories in the tech press. Touted as “fair pricing,” these plans are in fact little more than profit-padding for a service that already earns companies as much as 90% gross margin. There is nothing fair about usage-based billing in North America. Customers face the same prices they have always paid for unlimited service, but now endure an arbitrary usage allowance that usually includes a stiff overlimit fee. Those providers charging usage pricing do not offer the fastest service, have not made significant improvements above and beyond other providers that still charge flat rate prices, and frequently also charge excessive modem rental fees.

The duopoly most Americans have for broadband service has become quite fat and happy collecting ever-increasing amounts of money for service that only seems to improve after an upstart competitor like Google arrives ready to offer better service at a lower price. Customers in Kansas City, Austin, and a handful of other communities are getting the best upgrades and are empowered to negotiate a lower price for service. The rest of the country is not so lucky. A handful of often-under capitalized fiber competitors have arrived in some areas, but their market share generally remains a fraction of what the cable and phone companies have locked up.

We have always believed broadband was destined to become the next must-have utility service, following clean water, electricity, gas and some form of telephone service. Unfortunately, Washington policymakers continue to treat Internet access as an optional extra, allowing one or two companies to dominate access in most communities. Policymakers and regulators have done very little to protect consumers from the effects of marketplace concentration, allowing cable and phone companies to merge and raise prices, remain uncommitted to protecting the Open Internet with strong Net Neutrality protections, and not taking the effects of usage caps seriously.

One of the most effective ways a community can combat bad service and high prices is to support launching its own public broadband network. Throughout the United States, local town and counties enduring “good enough for you” broadband (or no service at all) are constructing their own fiber optic networks to better meet the realities of the 21st century digital economy. They face industry-funded opposition in at least 20 states where lawmakers have banned or severely curtailed these networks to protect private telecom giants from the effects of serious competition.

In 2015, Stop the Cap! will continue to fight for consumers looking for a better deal:

  • We continue to oppose industry consolidation. Mergers and buyouts benefit executives and shareholders. They almost never benefit customers who soon find rate increases, fewer choices, and often worse service as a result. Connecticut residents know that first hand enduring Frontier Communications’ recent bungled transition from AT&T service. Customers that dislike Time Warner Cable will likely loathe Comcast if that merger wins regulator approval. AT&T’s buyout of DirecTV leaves one less competitive choice for customers living in AT&T’s service areas looking for an alternative to U-verse television. Imagine if the government had approved AT&T’s attempted buyout of T-Mobile, the one wireless carrier now willing to throw a monkey-wrench into the current dominance of almost-identical expensive wireless service plans from AT&T and Verizon.
  • Usage caps and consumption billing remain unjustified, particularly for wired broadband. Despite industry claims that usage caps and usage billing stimulate investment, in most cases the costs of delivering broadband service and the amounts companies invest in network upgrades continue their relentless decline on a per customer basis. Usage billing is no prescription for congestion problems either. Most congestion problems occur during peak usage levels — when light and heavy users alike are most likely to be online. A truly fair usage pricing scheme would charge a fair price for actual usage and nothing else. But such a pricing scheme would likely cut broadband bills and profits. So providers offer pre-determined compulsory usage allowances at current prices instead, and do not offer a flat rate option or rollover unused usage to a future month. As a result, customers often pay more for less service and constantly have to check their usage to make sure they do not get an unexpected surprise on their bill.
  • Strong Net Neutrality protection is the best guarantee of preserving the Internet as it exists today – where success or failure of an online venture is based on what it offers customers, not on the size of its bank account. A nationwide end to laws restricting the development and expansion of community broadband is also essential to give communities self-determination of their broadband future.
  • We will continue to educate consumers on how to negotiate a better deal with your provider and avoid expensive surcharges like modem rental fees. We will also continue to enlighten you about the pervasive influence of Big Telecom money on non-profits, state and federal governments, and researchers that support the various agendas of some of the largest telecom corporations in the country.

Broadband is improving at an incredible pace around the world, but back home prices continue to rise while Internet speed improvements are often met by usage cap road bumps. Internet affordability remains as much of a problem as rural broadband access. The more you know, the more effective you can argue for a change in telecom policies, where the public interest is better-balanced against corporate profits and duopoly prices.

Thank you for being a part of our efforts to make things better.

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.

Amazon.com Slashes Price of Fire TV: $69 for Cyber Monday is $30 Off Regular Price

Phillip Dampier December 1, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Amazon’s entry into the online video streaming set-top box market is getting a price chop for Cyber Monday, discounted by $30 for today only.

An out the door price of $69 plus applicable tax will get you connectivity between your home broadband connection and your television, and is particularly useful for Amazon Prime customers seeking access to Prime Instant Video. Amazon Fire TV uniquely uses voice search — at least for Amazon.com’s own video content, and supports Netflix, Hulu Plus, and a variety of other online video resources. Built in Wi-Fi also allows for remote control. The box can be managed through the Fire TV Remote App for your mobile device. The app includes voice search, simple navigation, and a keyboard for easy text entry—no more hunting and pecking. The app is supported on many Android phones and tablets, Fire Phone, and Fire HDX & Fire HD tablets with microphones.

Amazon’s video set-top box fiercely competes with Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast.

fire tv compare

This Amazon-provided comparison chart is weighed in favor of Amazon’s device, but does offer useful specs.

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