Over here on the content side of things most of us are not familiar with phrases such as ‘zero rating’ and ‘differential pricing practices’ so might tune out of a CRTC decision titled “Framework for Assessing the Differential Pricing Practices of Internet Service Providers” but we shouldn’t. Net neutrality is an increasingly important concept for content creators and consumers.
Let’s go through a few definitions first.
Net neutrality is the principle that all data on the Internet should be treated the same. It costs the same to the user, it is regulated (or not) the same and it is delivered the same (i.e. no throttling of certain kinds of data). So the video or the game that you create is not treated any differently from email or music or apps etc.
Differential pricing is the practice of offering the same content or services to consumers at different prices. Examples are:
Zero rating: the practice of not charging consumers for certain kinds of data. That could be sports or all video or gaming. That data would then not be counted towards the consumers data cap and would make that service more competitive.
Sponsored data: an application provider arranges with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to discount the data associated with its app.
The CRTC’s decision is to disallow these differential pricing practices (and any others that arise, based on a framework that has been developed to assess the practices) in order to maintain net neutrality.
In practical terms this means that immediately Vidéotron’s Unlimited Music Service, which excluded the data used by that music streaming service from certain mobile plans, was offside. What it means for content creators is that ISPs cannot distinguish themselves on the basis of what content they have to offer – no exclusive access or zero-rated access to Netflix, or CraveTV or gaming. They can compete on price and speed and size of the data caps but not content. Look at this quote from the decision:
“The Commission considers that any short-term benefits of differential pricing practices would be greatly outweighed by the negative long-term impacts on consumer choice if ISPs were to act as gatekeepers of content through their use of such practices.”
Gatekeepers. Does that sound familiar? This is why the decision should be of interest to content creators, particularly those who are moving away from broadcasters as gatekeepers to offer their content directly to consumers. The Differential Pricing Practices decision means that you will not be moving from broadcaster to ISP as gatekeeper. For digital content creators it means that the ISP cannot insert itself between you and your audience.