CRTC demands answers from Bell on its Mobile TV shellgame

mirko-bibic-1Bell’s CRTC whisperer, Mirko Bibic, got bent out of shape when he saw the CRTC’s annoying interrogatories Friday morning

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Today saw another encouraging step in the CRTC’s management of the Ben Klass Part 1 application on Bell’s Mobile TV service. You can get the backstory in my prior posts (first one was in November) and from Ben’s blog, among other places.

That step was the interrogatories sent to Bell officials, asking for detailed information on Bell’s network architecture, subscriber invoicing, content exclusivity and competition, among other things. I’ve pasted in all 10 of the Commission’s questions below. A couple of comments in the meantime…

bell-mobileTVimageFirst off, the language of the questions demonstrates that the Commission is taking Ben’s application to heart, and that it sees a prima facie case against Bell for violating telecom rules. On one crucial point, whether Mobile TV is simply a broadcasting service as Bell claims, the Commission staff want to hear an explanation of the “inconsistency” in Bell’s statements on this matter – as well as of “how a data service that uses the Internet is not a telecommunications service” (yes, Bell argues that its quacking duck ain’t no water fowl no how).

On two of the other central regulatory issues, the Commission asks Bell to explain just how come Bell Mobility subs are not “subject to an undue preference in regard to their data usage when they access the Bell Mobile TV app“… and then how it’s possible that competing content providers are not “unjustly discriminated against or subject to an undue disadvantage.”

netflix-logoIn that passage, the Commission’s examples are the CBC and NFB. It does get around to mentioning two non-Canadian competitors – Netflix and YouTube. Bell argued in January there was clear evidence Netflix and YouTube aren’t being hurt by any anti-competitive behavior on Bell’s part. And what evidence would that be? That these two services have been growing in popularity. Oops. In a sign of how little Bell cares, or how little credit it gives its adversaries for brains, Bell says that “the percentage of Canadians subscribing to Netflix has increased by 70% over the course of 2012.”

Wonder if the guy who wrote that is working on the next iteration. However many millions of Canadians are now subscribed to Netflix, that’s got absolutely nothing to do with Bell discouraging its subs from streaming Netflix on their Bell smartphones by charging 800% more – just like Bell does with data caps on its wireline service, duh!

We’re going to have big fun in the coming weeks watching Bell try to wriggle out of the dumb traps it has set for itself.

The Bell questions follow verbatim (similar questions were sent today to Rogers and Vidéotron):

Interrogatories to Bell Mobility

1 – Explain if and how the content available (e.g. channels, VOD, other) on the Bell Mobile TV app is different for (i) a customer who only subscribes to Bell TV, (ii) a customer who only subscribes to Bell Mobility, and (iii) a customer who only subscribes to Virgin Mobile.

2 – Describe the specific costs (e.g. content rights and/or data usage) that are being recovered by (i) the $5 fee being charged for the first 10 hours of usage of the Bell Mobile TV app and (ii) the $3 per hour fee being charged for usage beyond the first 10 hours.

3 – Describe the impact on the wireless data plan when a Bell Mobile TV app subscriber watches a) 5 hours of Bell Mobile TV content and b) 15 hours of Bell Mobile TV content in the following situations: (i) on Bell Mobility’s wireless network; (ii) on a competitor’s wireless network; (iii) on a Wi-Fi network at home; and (iv) on a free Wi-Fi network in a public space.

4 – Explain how Bell Mobility differentiates on the customer’s invoice the data consumption associated with the viewing of Bell Mobile TV app content from the data consumption associated with access to other Internet services.

5 – At paragraph 13 of his application, Mr. Klass quoted a news release from Bell Canada in which the Bell Mobile TV app was described as a “breakthrough wireless data service that offers on-the-go access to more than 40 channels of live and on-demand sports, news, entertainment and children’s TV programming”. At paragraph 5 of its 9 January 2014 answer, Bell Mobility stated that “Bell Mobility’s Mobile TV service is a broadcasting undertaking which provides a broadcasting service not a telecommunication service”. Clarify Bell Mobility’s position. Explain the inconsistency in these statements and how a data service that uses the Internet is not a telecommunications service.

6 – Is the content of Bell Mobile TV app downloaded, streamed, or progressively downloaded?

7 – Network architecture

a)  Provide two diagrams: the first one describing how content (e.g. a TV show) is
delivered to a Bell Fibe TV subscriber and the second one describing how content (e.g. a TV show) is delivered to a Bell Mobility subscriber. The diagrams should detail all similarities and differences between these two services.

b)  Please describe the overall network architecture from video source ingestion (live or recorded) to display on smartphone/tablet.

c) Is the Bell Mobile TV app content differentiated from any other Internet traffic on Bell’s wireless network? If so, where on the network is it differentiated and separated?

d) Does Bell Mobile TV app content watched on a smartphone/tablet get a higher priority than other Internet content on Bell Mobility’s wireless network? Are there any optimization or overload mechanisms in place to ensure a better quality of service? If so, please describe.

8 – Is the Bell Mobile TV app content sent from the server to each subscriber or is it sent to a group of subscribers?

9 – Given that the first 10 hours of Bell Mobile TV app usage does not count toward the Bell Mobility subscriber’s wireless data plan and costs $5, the offer seems more advantageous for the Bell Mobile TV app compared to other third party apps.

a)  Explain how Bell Mobility subscribers are not subject to an undue preference in
regard to their data usage when they access the Bell Mobile TV app.

b)  Explain how competing content providers (e.g. the National Film Board or the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) are not unjustly discriminated against or
subject to an undue disadvantage.

10 – At paragraphs 40-42 of its 9 January 2014 answer, Bell Mobility quotes statistics
about the growing popularity of Netflix and YouTube subscribers in order to demonstrate that the pricing for Bell Mobile TV app has not lessened competition. Since these statistics are not specific to the content watched on a wireless phone, explain how the company could conclude from these statistics that the pricing of the Bell Mobile TV app is not affecting competition in the provision of content on wireless phones. Please provide any available statistics that are specific to the mobile TV market.

D.E.