Videotron Tests Neutrality In Canada: Biggest Music Apps Now Cap Exempt

from the bad-ideas-dressed-up-as-good-ideas dept

Canadian cable and wireless operator Videotron is hoping to see just how far Canada’s net neutrality rules will stretch. The company last week was the latest to experiment with a new zero rated usage plan that exempts the biggest music services from the company’s usage caps. Dubbed “Unlimited Music,” Videotron’s new effort will initially exempt services like Stingray, Rdio, Google Play, Deezer and Spotify from usage limits. Depending on popularity, additional services will be placed on the company’s usage-allotment whitelist in the coming months. According to Videotron, this is about “getting ahead” of consumers’ needs:

“We want to get ahead of our customers? needs once again by bringing them a unique, innovative service: Unlimited Music will help make the connection between fans of music from Qu?bec and around the world, and the major music streaming players.”

On the surface most users initially like the idea of cap-exempt content. Indeed, carriers have tried to frame such a concept as “1-800” or “free shipping” for data, where the content company bears the brunt of the cost of delivering the content to the end user. Consumers pay less for data and select companies gain a marketing advantage. It’s a huge win for everybody involved, right?

Well, no. Remember that usage caps imposed by carriers are utterly arbitrary and are barely bound to any real-world economics or engineering. These are artificial limitations carriers then charge consumers and companies to navigate. By letting the biggest companies be exempt from these arbitrary limitations (sometimes for pay, sometimes not), you’ve immediately put small businesses, independents, and non-profits at a massive disadvantage. This has been a huge issue overseas where Facebook and Google have faced fierce opposition to their dreams of turning the Internet into a zero rated, selectively curated, walled-garden advertising kingdom.

Back in the States, VC Fred Wilson put it this way a few years back:

“The pernicious thing about zero rating is that it is marketed as a consumer friendly offering by the mobile carrier ? ?we are not charging you for data when you are on Spotify.” But what all of this zero rating activity is setting up is a mobile internet that looks a lot more like cable TV than our wide open Internet. Soon a startup will have to negotiate a zero rating plan before launching because mobile app customers will be trained to only use apps that are zero rated on their network.”

For some reason, many people can’t see the threat posed by zero rating. Stop by any Reddit thread on the subject, and you’ll usually find most users utterly clueless to the potential pitfalls of letting carriers inject themselves as middle men in this fashion (free Spotify, bro!). Even T-Mobile, currently the US wireless industry consumer darling (whose “Music Freedom” idea Videotron is copying), doesn’t understand the pitfalls of zero rating. Regulators too have gone out of their way to avoid seriously addressing zero rating, meaning that companies can dance over and under net neutrality rules, just as long as they’re clever about marketing the violations as a boon to consumers.

In Canada, zero rating is supposed to be a subject the CRTC examines on a case-by-case basis. But when the CRTC can be bothered to enforce neutrality, they’ve only taken action against the most obvious offenses (like phone companies exempting their own video services from their caps, but not competing companies’ traffic). Though they’ll fumble in admitting as much, North American regulators see caps and zero rating as “creative” pricing experimentation.

With regulators napping and many consumers cheerfully and obliviously rooting against their own best self interests, it’s pretty clear we intend to collectively discover just how stupid and slippery the zero rating slope can be. Perhaps real-world experience will be educational in a way that warnings about zero rating couldn’t be. But it’s kind of like the boiling frog anecdote; once you’re fully aware of the temperature of the water, you’ve already traveled beyond the point of no return. Once we’ve accepted the carrier meddling and unlevel playing fields inherent in zero rating, it may be too late to backtrack.

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Companies: videotron

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Comments on “Videotron Tests Neutrality In Canada: Biggest Music Apps Now Cap Exempt”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Zero rating is a backdoor attempt to restore the control of publishers, as some internet service company become the only way of reaching an audience, they will be able to decide who reaches an audience, and who get the lion share of the profits. Also if not already owned by traditional publishers, they soon will be when they are one of the few channels of reaching the public.
None of this benefits those who create any form of content.

David says:

Well, no.

Remember that usage caps imposed by carriers are utterly arbitrary and are barely bound to any real-world economics or engineering.

Zero-cap offers are great for all offerings where it makes economic sense to put a server at the last mile, thus making people saturate their traffic with cheap local data. That makes only sense for popular services.

The sane alternative of using content-neutral dynamic local caching on the providers’ servers does not work with DRM-infested streams where every recipient gets a bitstream not useful to anybody not having booked the same content in the same timeslot.

So such offers do make great economical sense, but they obviously are quite bad for maintaining healthy competition.

It buys you things akin to the American two-party system where the available options have become a joke but change is not realistic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Well, no.

The option that you are overlooking is that those services who want to use DRM can install their own servers wherever needed to serve their customers, and those who do not use DRM can use a content delivery network, which place communal servers where needed.
It is preferable that content delivery network are independent of ISPs, so that those needing their services can deal with one content delivery provider to serve the whole world. Use of content delivery networks is compatible with the the use of HTTPS, and does not require sites to give their keys to ISPs who have a history of modifying data stream to inject adverts. Competing content delivery does not introduce inefficiency, and helps to keep them honest.

David says:

Re: Re: Well, no.

The option that you are overlooking is that those services who want to use DRM can install their own servers wherever needed to serve their customers,

What about “where it makes economic sense to put a server at the last mile” did you not understand? It doesn’t matter who gets to install the server (in fact, it pretty much has to be the content provider because of DRM) but the bandwidth savings have to make economic sense.

Paul Renault (profile) says:

Luckily, I don't have to use Vidéotron.

In Québec, where Vidéotron operates, if you’re using Bell Internet as your ISP, you can remove all caps for an extra $10/month (depending on you ‘services package’ (TV, Phone, etc).

I’m in the Atlantic Provinces. The Aliant/Bell Internet services is only available with no caps. They never had caps, and promised that they will never have ’em.

Bonus: it’s a vanilla ‘Net connection, with all ports open, except for the LAN-specific ports. Not the cheapest, but worth every penny.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: Luckily, I don't have to use Vidéotron.

“In Québec, where Vidéotron operates, if you’re using Bell Internet as your ISP, you can remove all caps for an extra $10/month (depending on you ‘services package’ (TV, Phone, etc).”

Yes, having a normal, unrestricted connection as a premium option is every ISP exec’s pipe dream. Comcast here in the States is now testing an option whereby you pay a $30 premium if you want to dodge a 300 GB cap (with $10 per 50 GB overages).

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