Broadcasters want level playing field on mobile devices, CRTC hears

The CRTC should ensure wireless carriers do not "wall-off" their mobile devices to provide preferential treatment for some content providers, broadcasters of mobile content told the commission Monday.

The CRTC should ensure wireless carriers do not "wall-off" their mobile devices to provide preferential treatment for some content providers, broadcasters of mobile content told the commission Monday.

In presentations during the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's hearing into whether to regulate new media, the owners of The Weather Network and The Score sports channel raised concerns about how wireless carriers can potentially control mobile content.

"Under the rules as they exist today, mobile carriers can decide which programming gets preferential packaging, and they can get programmers to pay a fee for it," said Paul Temple, the vice-president of regulatory affairs for Pelmorex Media Inc., which owns The Weather Network.

"If we say no or are not given the opportunity, they may require the customer to pay more to access our content," he said.

Pelmorex president Gaston Germain said that wireless communications have previously been exempt from rules preventing discrimination of content that governs ISPs, but that this exemption was for technological reasons when mobile phones were in their infancy.

"There may have been more of a technology reason at some point to treat them differently, but that day has passed," he said.

While both The Weather Network and The Score are mainly known as broadcasting stations, the two channels have branched out into mobile content.

Benjie Levy, the co-chief operating officer of Score Media, said wireless providers and content providers such as The Score should be free to negotiate content deals, but those deals shouldn't preclude the consumer from seeking out other services.

Closed systems as found on mobile services could make their way to the internet as well, he said, bringing up the example in the United States of ESPN360, the online version of the ESPN sports television channel, which recently began entering into deals with ISPs to offer programming exclusive to to a particular internet service provider.

"There is very much a concern that these guys who control the pipes could also control the content," Levy said.

The presentations veered close to the subject matter of the CRTC's planned hearings on net neutrality, and CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein was quick to move the discussion off that topic.

The CRTC has said in the past the two issues are separate, with the new media hearings considering changes to the Broadcasting Act, while the net neutrality hearings will focus on telecommunications. However, critics have suggested that when it comes to the internet and wireless content, the distinction between broadcasting and telecommunications is less clear.

Both the Association of Canadian Advertisers and the National Hockey League, in separate appearances, urged the CRTC to extend the exemption on regulating new media, arguing internet and wireless were still in their infancy and needed more time before their impact on traditional broadcasting could be assessed.

Appearing in a joint presentation, Ontario Culture Minister Aileen Carroll and the Ontario Media Development Corp. said the new media exemption should continue, but called for new funding mechanisms to increase financial support for creating Canadian content.