Jean-Pierre Blais at the public hearing on differential pricing practices in Canada
October 31, 2016
Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
Check against delivery
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this public hearing. Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge that we are meeting here today on traditional territory of the First Nations. I would like to thank the Algonquin people and pay respect to their elders.
This hearing is being held as part of the process to examine the policy issues surrounding the use of differential pricing practices by Canadian fixed and mobile Internet service providers.
Simply put, differential pricing for Internet services occurs when the Internet service provider sets different prices for Internet access in different circumstances. Examples include specific applications that are exempted from monthly data allowances, a practice known as zero-rated data, and sponsored data.
If you only look at one or two individual practices in isolation, it may seem like certain service providers are giving some Canadians a good deal. However, there is a lot more to this issue than saving a few dollars.
Supporters of these types of practices generally contend that they enable consumers to benefit from free or discounted services.
Opponents argue that they are inconsistent with the common carriage requirements of Internet service providers to provide their telecommunications services to all subscribers without undue or unreasonable advantage or preference. Opponents argue that differential pricing practices enable Internet service providers to act as “gatekeepers,” resulting in an undue advantage to certain application providers over others, and influencing a subscriber’s choice of content.
From this perspective, differential pricing practices by Internet service providers are seen as undermining the principle of net neutrality which, broadly speaking, calls for all Internet traffic to be treated equally.
In 2015, the CRTC received two applications regarding the pricing practices used by Videotron for its Unlimited Music service. Under this mobile wireless plan, subscribers can stream music from several services without using up any of their data.
As this goes beyond an individual case and because of potential increased use of differential pricing practices such as this one, we decided to go beyond the particular case of the Videotron applications and look at this issue as a whole, so that Canadians and Internet service providers alike can benefit from a clear and transparent regulatory policy.
It is also worth mentioning that these practices are an emerging issue and also a challenge for other regulators around the world. They will be watching our proceeding as we consider important elements in defining how Canadians access the Internet.
When we launched this review in May, we accepted comments and interventions through our traditional methods. We realized, however, that this issue was of particular interest Internet-savvy Canadians who were having their own conversation on Reddit. So we went to them. I believe we are one of the first government agencies to use Reddit as an official consultation platform, and I am very proud of that. Over 1200 comments were shared on Reddit and these points of view have been added to our public record.
Questions to be discussed
With the two rounds of written submissions to date, parties have addressed the numerous issues raised in the Public Notice. Most parties recognized that differential pricing practices involve a preference or advantage in favour of the Internet service provider, the content provider or the subscriber; or, discriminate among content providers and subscribers. During this phase of the hearing we will be focusing on the following fundamental questions:
Can it be demonstrated that any preference and advantage conferred by these practices is not undue or unreasonable? And that any discrimination is not unjust? How and with what evidence?
What regulatory measures, if any, should the Commission implement?
During our consultation, some argued that the CRTC should ban data caps. These comments form part of the record and we will likely hear further arguments during this hearing. We might even ask questions about it. While we recognize that differential pricing cannot exist without data caps, it would be unwise for us to prejudge any potential outcome on this issue.
Before we begin, I would like to make a few introductions.
The panel for this hearing consists of:
- Peter Menzies, Vice-Chairman, Telecommunications
- Yves Dupras, Regional Commissioner for Quebec
- Linda Vennard, Regional Commissioner for Alberta and the Northwest Territories
- Christopher MacDonald, Regional Commissioner for the Atlantic Region and Nunavut
- And myself, Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman of the CRTC. I will be presiding over this hearing.
The Commission team assisting us includes:
- Suneil Kanjeekal, Hearing Manager
- Carolyn Pinsky and Daniel Finestone, Legal Counsel
- and Cindy Ventura, Hearing Secretary.
I would now like to invite Ms. Ventura to explain the procedure we will be following.
Madam Secretary . . .
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