‘Ottawa’ Pokémon Go Caught up in Canada’s Net Neutrality Debate as U.S. Carrier Offers Free Data to Players
TORONTO — As thousands wander the streets vying to catch virtual monsters, the Pokémon GO app itself has gotten snagged in Canada’s mounting net neutrality debate.
Net neutrality advocates are crying foul after U.S. carrier T-Mobile decided to exempt data charges for Pokémon GO, the insanely popular game that doubled Nintendo’s value to more than US$40 billion in just a few weeks. Called zero rating, this practice lets people spend unlimited time chasing cyber creatures in the real world without worrying about extra fees for exceeding wireless data caps.
No Canadian providers have offered such a deal – yet – but OpenMedia spokesman David Christopher said open Internet advocates north of the border are monitoring the situation as Canada’s telecom regulator prepares for a public hearing on differential pricing tactics this fall.
Consumer advocates argue zero rating schemes let carriers give certain content an advantage by luring customers with the promise of free data. This impedes the ability to compete on merit and gives carriers an excuse to maintain low data caps, Christopher said.
“Here we see a classic example where T-Mobile is effectively picking winners and losers,” he said. “The makers of Pokémon GO might be benefiting from this, but the makers out there with competing offerings might be losing out.”
But carriers such as Vidéotron Inc. – its unlimited music plans sparked the public hearing in the first place – argue zero rating is a way to offer consumers more choice. Even AT&T and Facebook wrote to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission in favour of the practice.
Since zero rating is under so much scrutiny in Canada, Christopher would be surprised to see a Canadian provider offer unlimited data for Pokémon GO before the CRTC hearing this fall.
Regardless, those obsessed with finding Pokémon at their neighbourhood park, café or subway can hunt freely since the app doesn’t use much data, according to research firm P3 Communications Inc.
It does, however, kill batteries. Telus Corp. is offering free charging stations at some of its stores to entice Pokémon-crazed users through its door.