To the casual net surfer it might seem that Bell’s newly launched online video store is just another way the telecommunications giant is competing with rampant P2P file-sharers.
“Rent or buy thousands of DVD-quality full-length movies, TV shows and music videos,” the website boasts, adding that files can be viewed through portable media players (but not iPods. They’re, um, actually not viewable on any Apple machines). “Your favourite videos available 24/7 to download and watch within minutes.”
Earlier this year, Bell and Rogers made headlines when they rolled out controversial internet bandwidth shaping (“throttling”) measures that would apparently alleviate congestion and additional expenses caused by high-bandwidth users. While throttling might be a non-issue for those who prefer watching hard copy DVDs from Blockbuster (or Pacific Mall), these policies didn’t just hit the high school bootlegger: they choked smaller ISPs that buy wholesale bandwidth from Bell.
So it’s slightly suspicious when a company currently being investigated by the CRTC for throttling starts pushing a high-speed download portal of its own (this service was formally available one year ago in a beta format called Videoplay.ca), effectively peddling multimedia content for profit while restricting access to alternative sources.
Jack Kapica at the Globe & Mail makes the point that Bell’s attempt to monopolize video and song downloads interferes with the market. Leaving aside the ethical debate over P2P downloading, this discussion centres on the more urgent issue of net neutrality and the continuing greed of Canadian telecommunications providers who have failed to keep up with changes in Internet usage. Extreme-bandwidth users are in the minority, so it’s unfair that policies targeted to thwart them should affect the majority. It’s also unfair that consumers are slowly being swindled out of choice. The online video store might be a great option for some Bell users but—tied in with the whole throttling thing—its launch has bigger implications for the internet in Canada.
Photo by johntrainor.