Telecom by yum9me (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/53jSy4
For governments accustomed to wielding their power to regulate local activity, the Internet has long been a source of frustration. From music sites to Uber to AirBNB, online services represent an enormous challenge to conventional government regulation, which typically relies on a jurisdictional hook to compel compliance.
While most reputable global companies can ill-afford to simply ignore laws or court orders, there are still websites that operate largely beyond the reach of government regulation. In response, some governments have attempted to regulate online behaviour, ordering Internet providers to block access to offending websites.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that Canadians have generally been spared website blocking initiatives due in part to the Telecommunications Act, which prohibits carriers from controlling “the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.” That rule means that Internet providers are effectively prohibited from unilaterally blocking content.
Rogers Media’s recent decision to slash 110 jobs and end all newscasts at OMNI, its multicultural channel, has sparked outrage among many ethnic communities, who have lamented the cancellation of local news programs in Italian, Punjabi, Cantonese, and Mandarin. Supporters argue that OMNI programming is essential to those communities and worry that the cancellations will mean that viewers become less politically engaged.
Last week, a House of Commons committee held a hearing on the OMNI cuts as members of Parliament from each party took Rogers executives to task. Rogers was unsurprisingly unapologetic, noting that the decision was based on simple economics as it pointed to declining advertising revenues that made the programming unsustainable.
Bell’s recent characterization of Canadians using virtual private networks to access U.S. Netflix as thieves has attracted considerable attention. Yesterday, I posted on why accessing U.S. Netflix is not theft, noting that a minority of Canadian Netflix subscribers use VPNs and arguing that the frustration seems rooted in business concerns rather than legal ones. The post added that Netflix and CraveTV (Bell’s online video service) have little overlap in content. Working with Kavi Sivasothy, one of my research students, we took a closer look at the libraries of Netflix U.S., Netflix Canada, and CraveTV. We relied on AllFlicks.net for the Netflix data and CraveTV’s own A to Z page for its data.
Based on that information, how many titles does CraveTV offer that overlap with Netflix U.S. and are not available on Netflix Canada? Not many. In fact, the data suggests that there are some CraveTV titles that are not available on Netflix U.S., but are available on Netflix Canada. Overall, more than 90 percent of CraveTV’s titles are not available on either Netflix U.S. or Netflix Canada. [UPDATE: Thanks to a reader for pointing out a few omissions from the chart. The error was due to different spelling in the Netflix and CraveTV lists. The numbers have been updated].
Bell Media president Mary Ann Turcke sparked an uproar last week when she told a telecom conference that Canadians who use virtual private networks (VPNs) to access the U.S. version of Netflix are stealing. Turcke is not the first Canadian broadcast executive to raise the issue – her predecessor Kevin Crull and Rogers executive David Purdy expressed similar frustration with VPN use earlier this year – but her characterization of paying customers as thieves was bound to garner attention.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues that Turcke’s comments provide evidence of the mounting frustration among Canadian broadcasters over Netflix’s remarkable popularity in Canada. Netflix launched in Canada less than five years ago, yet reports indicate that it now counts 40 per cent of English-speaking Canadians as subscribers. By contrast, Bell started its Mobile TV service within weeks of the Netflix launch, but today has less than half the number of subscribers.
Today is “Cellphone Freedom Day”, the day that most Canadian consumers can say goodbye to three year cellphone contracts. With the Federal Court of Appeal recently rejecting an attempt by the major carriers to stop the retroactive applicability of wireless code as of June 3rd (the two year anniversary of the code), consumers with cellphones that have run for more than 24 months can now cancel their contracts without penalty. That includes consumers with three years contracts that still have time left on their contract. As the CCTS notes:
three-year contracts which have run for more than 24 months can be cancelled without payment of cancellation fees, as the Code requires such fees to be reduced to zero within 24 months. Cancellation of three-year contracts in which the customer received a device subsidy but which have not yet run for 24 months (those entered into between June 3 and December 2, 2013) may still require payment of a cancellation fee.
Since the wireless companies switched to two-year contracts soon after the CRTC’s wireless code decision, there will be relatively few consumers with three year contracts that have not run for 24 months and those will hit the two-year mark within the next few weeks or months.