Bell wants to appeal CRTC net neutrality decision on mobile TV app
Company seeks legal costs from graduate student Ben Klass and other respondents
One of the country's biggest mobile companies is hoping the courts will overturn a decision by the telecom regulator that was aimed at creating greater price fairness for mobile TV services.
Bell Mobility Inc. has filed an application with the Federal Court of Appeal, asking that it be allowed to appeal a Jan. 29 ruling, which called the service provider's pricing model for its mobile TV app "unlawful."
Bell Mobility charges $5 a month for its Bell Mobile TV service and allows customers to stream up to 10 hours of programming on their mobile devices without counting the usage against their monthly wireless data caps. It costs $3 for each additional hour.
But if similar content is streamed from another source, the data used is counted, forcing customers who want the alternate programming to pay for additional bandwidth.
That prompted University of Manitoba graduate student Ben Klass to launch a complaint to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission in 2013.
The CRTC ruled the pricing model unlawful because it effectively made mobile TV services from other providers artificially more expensive and thereby uncompetitive.
The CRTC gave Bell until April 29 to eliminate the pricing practice.
CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said last month that all mobile service providers should treat content flowing through their networks equally, without offering special perks to their customers.
While innovation in its purest form should be applauded, the CRTC will intervene when it takes away from the principle of "fair and open access to content," Blais said.
Bell Mobility argues that Bell Mobile TV is a broadcasting service and doesn't fall under the Telecommnuications Act.
No evidence that customers harmed, Bell says
Bell also argues there is no evidence that the pricing model harms consumers.
Internet access advocacy group OpenMedia dismissed that argument Monday, saying it's clear consumers either pay more for competing programming because it costs more to access it, or they lose the ability to choose alternative content because it's too expensive.
The broadcasting and telecom giant wants to artificially inflate the price of independent services like Netflix instead of providing consumers choice on a level playing field, said OpenMedia campaigns manager Josh Tabish.
"Bell is doing everything in its power to make the Internet more like cable TV," he said.
"They want the power to pick and choose what we see by forcing competing services into a more expensive toll lane online," he added.
In its court filing, Bell said its mobile TV app is a broadcasting service and when its customers access other internet-based video services, they are gaining that access through a separate and distinct internet service.
In addition to seeking the right to appeal, it is asking for Klass and other respondents in the lawsuit, including several other individuals and groups representing consumers, to cover its legal costs.
Klass told CBC News Monday that he hasn't yet made up his mind how to respond to the court filing.
"It appears that Bell is simply pursuing the argument, that it unsuccessfully made to the CRTC, through the court," he said.
He added that being potentially liable for costs is unnerving, even if it may be a matter of procedure.
"In that regard, it really strikes me as a method of intimidation," he said. "Right off the bat, it has a chilling effect."
The big telecommunications companies have recently come under increasing pressure from consumer advocacy groups over their pricing of mobile and internet-based TV streaming services.
Earlier this month, Bell Media and Telus Corp. asked the CRTC to dismiss what they termed a "frivolous" complaint about Bell's CraveTV video service.
The Consumers' Association of Canada and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre have expressed concerns over how the service delivers content to consumers.
Similar concerns have been expressed over the Shomi video service offered jointly by Rogers Communications and Shaw Inc.
The advocacy groups argue the companies offering those services "unduly prefer" their own customers and run counter to CRTC rules designed to promote consumer choice, partly because they require subscribers to purchase cable TV or Internet services from the telecom providers to access the streaming video content.
With a file from CBC News