For telecoms, it’s all about the Internet

This week, both MTS and Bell launched new Internet plans that were a departure from the status quo — MTS joined its home Internet and wireless data in one plan, while Bell announced a new gigabit Internet service.

In interviews, representatives from the companies said they introduced the new services because, well, the Internet is becoming increasingly important to Canadians and we’re using more and more of it.

“Their applications, their personal content, the information that they’re looking for on the web; it’s just become such an important part of everyday life,” Paul Norris, MTS’ vice-president of brand and consumer marketing said (subs only) regarding the new Total Internet service. It offers both unlimited home Internet at 10 Mbps and wireless data, which has no overage fees, for between $60 for one person to $160 for five.

Bell wouldn’t release pricing for its Gigabit Fibe, which will first be available to about 50,000 homes and businesses in Toronto this summer, later to be extended to 1.1 million, as well as other cities in Quebec, Ontario and Atlantic Canada (essentially, where Bell already has deployed its fibre-to-the-home network). It’s the first big telecom to offer gigabit service, which at 1,000 Mbps is much faster than the average Canadian’s Internet speed (5 and 49 Mbps for downloads and about 1 Mbps for uploads, according to the CRTC).

“Increasingly we see that consumers’ lives revolve around the Internet, and more so in 2015 than ever,” said Nicolas Poitras, vice-president of marketing for Bell’s residential services.

Poitras said Gigabit Fibe would mark a “major shift” in Canadian telecom, while Norris described Total Internet as a “game-changer.” It seems likely we’ll see competitors release interesting offers of their own in the near future.

But MTS’ and Bell’s new services are also symptoms of an ongoing trend toward Internet service becoming telecoms’ core service.

TV watching is moving over-the-top, and the growing popularity of messaging and voice apps and services mean you don’t actually need traditional voice and text or to pay for cable or IPTV service to call your friends or watch TV.  Interestingly, voice and text are an optional add-on to MTS’ new service, making it the only Canadian telecom to offer a data-only plan.

So after decades in which these companies moved from a market where Canadians bought their phone service from the phone company and TV from the cable company to competing with each other in the provision of bundled telecom services, it’s all in the process of shrinking down to one battlefield.

In a world where there’s only one product that matters, all our telecom needs will be met by the Internet service provider.

If this week’s announcements are any indication, it’s going to be an interesting transition to watch — especially given that we’ll find out the new battle rules soon, with the CRTC’s release of its decision on the wholesale wireline market.

Anja Karadeglija is senior reporter at The Wire Report. She can be reached at akarad@thewirereport.ca.

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‘Socially unacceptable’ or not, VPNs aren’t going away

Bell Media’s new boss made headlines this week when she chose to focus her first speech since taking over Kevin Crull’s job on the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) to watch content not available in Canada.

Mary Ann Turcke said using VPNs in this way is “stealing,” and stated that it’s become “socially unacceptable” to admit to such practices — in the same way as throwing garbage out of a car window.

It wasn’t a new position for Bell Media, given that Turcke’s predecessor also equated (subs only) such practices to piracy earlier this year.

But is it the right one?

I’d imagine more people are likely to confess to VPN use at their next dinner party than Turcke would like to admit, but that may be based on an occupational hazard — when I tell people I’m a telecom/media reporter, it’s the kind of topic that tends to come up.

Plus, it’s a practice at least one-third of Canadian Netflix users are willing to admit to, given that’s how many told a recent Media Technology Monitor survey they access American Netflix.

Whether VPN use is actually theft may also not be as clear-cut as Turcke would like it to be. University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist disagreed in a blog post last year, stating that while the practice may be in a legal “grey zone,” it’s not stealing.

He was one of the panelists at a recent discussion during the Rebooting Canada’s Communications Legislation conference, where he and former CRTC commissioner Timothy Denton pointed to the dangers of trying to control such technology.

Denton said using firewalls to control Internet access isn’t compatible with a democratic society, while Geist pointed out VPNs have more important purposes than accessing TV content, including safeguarding communications and privacy, both in Canada and in countries where free speech isn’t a given.

It’s a topic that’s been coming up more frequently in the past year or two (Bell rival Rogers denied an executive called for a ban on VPNs earlier this year).

Turcke’s comments inspired commentary in the telecom/media blogosphere, with Denton arguing that if “government were to engage in a technical arms race with consumers to block access, they will only tunnel deeper to get under the wire.” Peter Nowak wrote that if Bell wants to stop VPNs use, it should make it easier for customers to access the content they want, calling Bell’s tying of its CraveTV streaming service to a TV subscription “extortion.”

It’s a discussion that seems set only to intensify with the growth of streaming services like CraveTV and Rogers’ and Shaw’s Shomi in Canada, and from the likes of HBO, Showtime and CBS in the U.S.

As VPN use becomes a bigger thorn in the side of those selling and buying content, and those selling the streaming services housing that content, it seems likely the courts could eventually be called to weigh in on the issue (though I’ll leave it to the legal experts to speculate on how that would actually play out).

There’s also the possibility, as the Wire Report reported last year, that VPN use could instead eliminate geographic licensing, and we could see content being sold on a world-wide basis instead.

That’s a scenario consumers would likely welcome, but one in which streaming would presumably be dominated by global giants like Netflix — an outcome the likes of Bell and Rogers aren’t likely to relish.

Anja Karadeglija is senior reporter at The Wire Report. She can be reached at akarad@thewirereport.ca.

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