Telecom by yum9me (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/53jSy4
The Content Industry Connect conference, which was held in Toronto yesterday, featured a panel of leading television executives from Bell, the CBC, Corus, Rogers, and Shaw Media. Several people were live-tweeting the event when a comment from Rogers Senior Vice President David Purdy caught my eye. According to Kelly Lynne Ashton, a media policy expert, Purdy called on the Canadian government to shut down the use of virtual private networks:[caption id="attachment_9279" align="alignnone" width="300"] @Klashton27 tweet by Kelly Lynne Ashton[/caption]
In December 2010, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission passed the Open Internet Order, which featured relatively weak net neutrality rules. Despite their limited impact (the Order did not go as far as the Canadian Internet traffic management practices which were established a year earlier), Verizon challenged their validity in court. A U.S. appeals court sided with Verizon in 2014, ruling that the FCC did not have the authority to issue the order. The Verizon win proved to be short-lived, however, since later this week, the FCC will pass new net neutrality rules that go much further than the 2010 order. As Ars Technica recently noted, the Verizon net neutrality gamble backfired.
The Verizon blunder came to mind this past weekend as word began to circulate that Bell is seeking leave from the courts to challenge the CRTC’s recent net neutrality ruling involving its mobile television service. The company argues that the CRTC does not have the jurisdiction to issue its ruling under the Telecommunications Act (which forbids undue preferences) since the service should be governed by the Broadcasting Act (which does not have an undue preference provision). From Bell’s perspective, the court challenge presumably seems like a no-brainer: if it wins, the ruling is struck down. If it loses, it still delays the implementation of the CRTC decision for months or even years, thereby maintaining its existing practice for the time being.
In October 2013, Bell announced the launch of a targeted advertising program that uses its customers’ personal information to deliver more “relevant advertising.” The announcement sparked hundreds of complaints with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and a filing by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre over the same issue with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that nearly a year and a half later, the complaints and filings remain unresolved. The CRTC case has succeeded in placing considerably more information on the public record, however, offering a better perspective on what Bell is doing and why its privacy approach falls short.
Last week’s CRTC decision to ban simultaneous substitution from the Super Bowl broadcast starting in 2017 has generated mounting criticism in recent days. While analysts initially noted that the lost revenue for Bell Media would not be material (a prediction borne out by a quarterly conference call where the decision was not raised by anyone), anger over the decision has continued to grow. Nothing compares with Kevin O’Leary, a Bell Media commentator, ranting against the decision on Bell-owned BNN as he repeatedly calls the CRTC “insane” and laments lost foreign investment into a sector that still has Canadian ownership requirements. However, with Bell seeking private meetings with CRTC Commissioners to discuss the decision and more serious critiques from CMPA’s Michael Hennessy and Cartt.ca’s Greg O’Brien, the decision has clearly left many unhappy.
If the critics are right, the CRTC decision is the “beginning of the end of the system”, erodes the value of rights, and will lead to job losses and less Canadian content. It is undoubtedly true that changes are coming to the Canadian broadcasting system, but this simsub decision is at best a small part of the reason. The post raises six points in response to the decision and the critics.
The CRTC has rejected a request from Bell for private meetings with some or all of the CRTC Commissioners to discuss the recent simultaneous substitution decision involving the Super Bowl. According to recently obtained correspondence (posted below), Bell wrote privately to the CRTC Commissioners over the weekend to request an opportunity to discuss the ruling with each or all of them. The CRTC responded immediately, noting that the decision was the result of a public process that is still ongoing and that it would be inappropriate for Bell to hold private meetings with the Commissioners to discuss the decision. The full correspondence is posted below: