By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's telecom and broadcast regulator ruled on Thursday that all data delivered online should be treated equally by internet service providers, a blow to large companies seeking to leverage either their own or other companies' content to win customers.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) specifically ruled that Quebecor Inc's <QBRb.TO> Videotron can no longer offer music streaming services from the likes of Spotify and Google Music <GOOGL.O> to some wireless customers without them counting against a monthly data allowance.
"Rather than offering its subscribers selected content at different data usage prices, internet service providers should be offering more data at lower prices," CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in a statement accompanying the specific Videotron decision and broader update to its policy framework.
The regulator, however, did not issue a blanket ban on differential pricing - the practice of offering similar products to customers at varying prices. Instead, the regulator said it would rule on a case-by-case basis as to whether such arrangements provide "undue or unreasonable" preference.
The CRTC had previously ruled that mobile television products offered by BCE Inc's <BCE.TO> Bell Mobility and Videotron ran afoul of the law, while other large operators such as Rogers Communications Inc <RCIb.TO>, Telus Corp <T.TO> and Shaw Communications Inc <SJRb.TO> had avoided the practice of content-specific differential pricing.
The ruling for both fixed-line and wireless internet comes amid an ongoing global debate on whether suppliers of connectivity must treat all data equally, a concept known as net neutrality.
EU telecom regulators last year adopted guidelines limiting the extent to which some applications may be exempted from data limits.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump's appointee to head the Federal Communications Commission is moving quickly to replace the Obama administration's landmark 2015 net neutrality rules that reclassified broadband providers and treated them like a public utility, three sources said earlier this month.
(Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Denny Thomas and Diane Craft)