The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced Thursday it intends to uphold and strengthen the country’s commitment to net neutrality principles — including the introduction of a framework that would prevent the practice of preferential pricing for services, often referred to as zero-rating.
The decision comes as part of a ruling on the practices of Montreal-based wireless carrier Quebecor, which has not been charging subscribers for data used for music-streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.
By excluding certain services from counting against data caps, it is perceived that the carrier provides an unfair advantage to those services. For example, if streaming YouTube videos doesn’t count against data caps but streaming Netflix does, then users would be more likely to watch YouTube content.
Under the framework proposed by the CRTC, the practice of differential pricing, also referred to as zero-rating, will no longer be allowed. Quebecor and other carriers offering zero-rated services will have 90 days to comply with the new rules.
Rather than offering its subscribers selected content at different data usage prices, Internet service providers should be offering more data at lower prices,” Jean-Pierre Blais, the chairman and CEO of the CRTC, said in a statement. “That way, subscribers can choose for themselves what content they want to consume.”
The ruling goes against the wishes of two of the three largest mobile carriers in Canada — Bell and Telus — which voiced their support for differential pricing as the Canadian government held hearings on the practice. Rogers, another of the “big three” Canadian service providers, opposed zero-rating.
Open internet advocates have long opposed zero-rating practices, arguing it undermines the principle of net neutrality that requires all data be treated equally.
Zero-rating offers from American carriers brought regulatory scrutiny of the practice by the Federal Communications Commission when it was headed by chairman Tom Wheeler under the Barack Obama administration. Prior to leaving office, Wheeler issued warnings to AT&T and Verizon for exempting their own video streaming services from counting against data limits.
Under the Donald Trump administration and new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the commission has backed off its intent to prevent companies from offering differential pricing. Pai has called net neutrality “a mistake” and proposed an agenda that would roll back many regulatory protections, opting instead for voluntary adherence to open internet principles from ISPs.