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Hey, America. Canada's watchdog just slapped net neutrality rules on wireless internet

Decision breaks down arbitrary divide between web and TV

A decision by Canadian telecoms regulator CRTC may have significant implications after it applied net neutrality rules to wireless connections.

In the ruling, the country's largest telco Bell was ordered to stop offering a mobile app that for $5 per month allowed customers to watch 10 hours of video from television channels owned or licensed by the company on their cell phones without it counting against a data cap.

If the subscriber were to watch videos from a rival app or whatever, the deal did not apply and the data would count against their plan's download limit.

That situation prompted student Ben Klass to complain to CRTC, and it upheld his complaint. Crucially, however, the watchdog dismissed gripes put forward by Bell that the video watched was a broadcast service and so telecom regulation was not applicable. Bell also argued that the service was a good thing for Canucks and so should not be prevented.

CRTC disagreed on both counts. And it used net neutrality language to argue that such a service:

May end up inhibiting the introduction and growth of other mobile TV services accessed over the Internet, which reduces innovation and consumer choice.

Perhaps more importantly, it also tore down a somewhat arbitrary barrier between different types of data and the rules that apply to each. In doing so, it recognized the modern reality that people access the same content from the same providers over different channels without differentiating between them.

"From a subscriber’s perspective, the mobile TV services are accessed and delivered under conditions that are substantially similar to those of other Internet-originated telecommunications services," the decision noted, effectively extending net neutrality principles.

CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais was well aware of the import of the decision, telling reporters: "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 favors innovation and choice. The CRTC always wants to ensure - and this decision supports this goal – that Canadians have fair and reasonable access to content."

Bell told CBC news that it was "shocked" by the ruling.

The decision will have no impact on the showdown expected next month in Washington DC when US regulator the FCC decides whether to introduce new net neutrality rules. That decision could also still impact Canadians despite the ruling today since many internet services are based in the US and so would be subject to US law. ®

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