Image for Ben Klass battles Bell in a case that will shape future of Net Neutrality
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Canada Privacy

Ben Klass battles Bell in a case that will shape future of Net Neutrality

On Tuesday, the Federal Court of Appeal held a key hearing that will help determine the future of Net Neutrality in Canada.

As you may recall, Bell Canada is appealing an important January 2015 CRTC ruling that prohibited telecom companies from exempting certain services from data caps in order to discriminate against competing services, such as Netflix.

The CRTC ruling was prompted by a complaint from Ben Klass, then a University of Manitoba graduate student, who noticed that Bell was offering a $5/month mobile TV service that enabled customers to watch up to 10 hours of Bell-owned TV channels without such usage counting against their data cap.

Ben argued that this discriminated against competing apps and services, such as Netflix, and calculated that Bell’s policy amounted to charging an 800% markup to watch non-Bell services:

“It turns out that Bell charges you $5 a month to watch 5GB worth of their own content. If you want to watch 5GB worth of Netflix on the Bell network, on the other hand, they charge you $40. That’s a markup of 800%.”— Ben Klass

The CRTC agreed that this practice constituted “undue preference” under subsection 27(2) of the Telecommunications Act, and violated the principle of Net Neutrality, which stipulates that telecom providers should treat all data traveling across their networks equally.

Without clear Net Neutrality rules to ensure the Internet is open and accessible to all players, providers like Bell can force customers to pay more to access competing content providers - in Bell’s case, by demanding customers pay an 800% markup to watch non-Bell-owned content.

This is a result of Canada’s vertically integrated media and telecommunications market, where companies like Bell and Rogers own both much of the content Canadians consume, as well as much of the networks Canadians use to access that content.

On Tuesday the court heard arguments from Ben and other co-applicants, the CRTC, the Attorney General of Canada, and, of course, telecom giant Bell.

From OpenMedia’s perspective, there’s no doubt that the stakes couldn’t be higher for the future of Canada’s Internet. The court will either uphold fair rules that allow a wide variety of innovative services and businesses to flourish on a level playing field. Or giants like Bell will be allowed to regulate Canada’s Internet with themselves as the de facto gatekeepers.

In many senses, this truly is a David vs. Goliath case that pits a young, independent researcher against a telecom giant that has earned its reputation as the most arrogant provider in Canada.

In just the past 12 months alone, Bell has accused Canadians who access U.S. Netflix of ‘stealing’, attempted to restrict the range of affordable Internet services through a rarely-used parliamentary procedure, and are now trying to undermine fair Net Neutrality rules that serve as the first commandment of the open Internet.

While the court is not likely to render its final decision on the appeal until later this year, we hope for a speedy resolution that is in favour of Canadians. After all, Ben first challenged the Bell’s billing gimmick over two years ago in November of 2013, and innovators, creators, and Internet users need to know where Canada’s rules stand in regard to Net Neutrality.

Why? First, Bell’s plan is bad for innovation. Online content providers shouldn’t need permission from giants like Bell to avoid censorship.

Second, it should be up to users, not big telecom giants, to decide which applications and services live and die on the Internet. Telecom providers should not be acting as gatekeepers of the web.

And third, Bell is trying to push as many people as possible to their outdated TV model. They know the single greatest threat to TV is the Internet – of course, nothing is going to save Bell from that.

So, let’s hope for a speedy resolution, and fingers crossed for a ruling that respects the open Internet.