Telecom by yum9me (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/53jSy4
Fresh off the contentious hearing on the future of television regulation, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission jumped back into the fire last week with a hearing on the wireless market that focused on whether changes are needed to the wholesale market to improve competition.
The Big 3 – Bell, Telus, and Rogers – unsurprisingly opposed new measures, arguing that the Commission should reject the Competition Bureau’s independent finding that there are competition concerns along with the smaller players and consumer groups that support new regulations. Instead, they argue that Canadians can trust that the market is already competitive and that reforms would reduce investment and harm the quality of the networks.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that if that message evokes a sense of déjà vu, perhaps that is because it is seemingly always a matter of trust when it comes to Canadian wireless services.
From Cell Towers to Credit Card Data: Telecom Privacy Case Reveals Scope of Police Demands for Subscriber Information
Last month, media reports covered a recently released Ontario court decision involving a Peel Regional Police warrant application for subscriber data from Telus and Rogers. The two telecom companies challenged the order, arguing that it was overbroad. The police withdrew the order in favour of a more limited request, but the court decided that the Charter issues raised by the request should still be examined.
The money quote from the judge – “the privacy rights of the tens of thousands of cell phone users is of obvious importance” – captured the attention, but the case is more interesting for the data it provides on police warrant applications for subscriber data. The case reveals that Telus received approximately 2,500 production orders and general warrants in 2013, while Rogers produced 13,800 files in response to production orders and search warrants that year.
Even more interesting is how the police were seeking access to a huge amount of subscriber information by asking for all records involving dozens of cell phone towers, including subscriber data, billing information, bank data, and credit card information. The specifics as described by the court:
The Ghost of iCraveTV?: The CRTC Asks Bell For Answers About Its Mobile TV Service in Net Neutrality Case
Before there was Youtube, Hulu, Netflix, and broadcasters streaming their content on the Internet, there was iCraveTV. iCraveTV, a Canadian-based start-up, launched in November 1999, by streaming 17 over-the-air television channels on the Internet. The picture was small, connection speeds were slow, but the service was streaming real-time television years before it became commonplace. The company relied upon two Canadian laws to provide the service: the Copyright Act, which contains a provision permitting retransmission of broadcast signals subject to certain conditions, and the CRTC’s New Media Exemption order, which excluded new media broadcasters from regulation.
The company faced an immediate legal fight from Hollywood and broadcasters. Within months of launching, the service shut down. U.S. demands for Canadian law reform ultimately led to changes to the Copyright Act, which effectively excluded “new media retransmitters” from taking advantage of the retransmission provision.
iCraveTV is long forgotten for most Internet users, but the legal framework that ultimately emerged was invoked this week by the CRTC in Canada’s leading net neutrality case.
From seemingly the moment in launched in Canada, Wind Mobile argued that it was being placed at a competitive disadvantage due to unfair roaming agreements with Rogers. As a new entrant, the company was reliant on roaming agreements to offer nationwide service, yet it claimed that Rogers was tilting the playing field against it. Rogers unsurprisingly disagreed. In a Senate appearance in 2009, the company was asked directly about the issue:
Senator Zimmer: Have you had any requests from new wireless entrants for roaming and tower-sharing agreements, and how have you handled those? What is the progress on these arrangements to date?
Mr. Engelhart: I am glad you asked that question, because we have been reading in the press some grumbling by some of the new entrants, and it has left us puzzled. Mr. Roy and I, mostly Mr. Roy, have successfully concluded roaming agreements with all the new entrants who have approached us, and we did that in a business negotiation that did not need arbitration or enforcement from Industry Canada. We have also provided access to a huge number of our towers to the new entrants. We believe the government policy that requires us to make those facilities available is working, and we are proud of what we have done.
Several years ago, the United Kingdom passed the controversial Digital Economy Act, which included provisions for disconnecting Internet users accused of repeat copyright infringement. That bill generated protests, but ultimately passed. The disconnection provisions never took effect, however, as they were the target of legal challenges. Now reports indicate that the copyright enforcement scheme has been shelved altogether as rights holders and Internet service providers have reached agreement on a voluntary system that looks a lot like Canada’s notice-and-notice approach.
The system involves a maximum of four warning letters to a customer per year. There is no disclosure of the subscriber information and no threat of loss of Internet service. Rights holders can take further legal action if they so choose. I wrote about Canada’s notice-and-notice system here (which similarly involves notices, no disclosure of personal information, and no loss of service), discussing its effectiveness and warning against the possibility that the Trans Pacific Partnership could be used to override the “made in Canada” approach.