Telecom by yum9me (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/53jSy4
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.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Spencer decision, several leading Canadian ISPs have publicly announced that they have changed their practices on the disclosure of subscriber information (including basic subscriber information such as name and address) to law enforcement. For example, Rogers announced that it will now require a warrant or court order prior to disclosing information to law enforcement except in emergency situations. Telus advised that it has adopted a similar practice and TekSavvy indicated that that has long been its approach. SaskTel says that it will release name, address, and phone number.
Unlike its competitors, Bell has remained largely silent in recent weeks. In media reports, the company says little more than that it follows the law. In fact, the Toronto Star’s Alex Boutilier tweets that the company is now declining to respond to journalist inquiries about the issue. In the past, the company was a clear supporter of disclosing “pre-warrant” information in some circumstances to law enforcement. As detailed in this Canadian Bar Association article:
The OECD released its latest Internet broadband data yesterday, covering the 34 OECD member states. The update emphasized wireless broadband access, comparing subscription rates across the OECD (many other aspects of the OECD data collection, including pricing and speeds, were not updated). Wireless broadband has emerged in recent years as a critical method of Internet connectivity with consumers and businesses relying on mobile broadband, yet the OECD data has Canada ranking poorly for wireless broadband subscriptions when compared to the rest of the developed economy world (coverage from the Wire Report (sub req)). The OECD release comes one week after a CRTC sponsored report found that Canadian wireless pricing is among the most expensive in the G7 in every tier of usage.
Seven countries, including Finland, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Korea, and the U.S., have at least one subscription for every inhabitant. In Canada, the number drops to 53.3 subscriptions for every 100 inhabitants. That places Canada 24th out of 34 OECD countries.