In theory there is no problem with usage based billing for internet access, or #UBB if you are on twitter – and if you are not yet a ‘tweeter’, let me attest, best cure for back pain, and a great medium to get on TV, but I digress.
Essentially, the corporate owners of the actual data lines would be able to set limits to 3rd party, lease holder ISPs, ending any bandwidth usage competition for internet access to households, organizations, government bodies and businesses. The potential result, between $1 to $4 per gigabyte use over the set limits on subscriber plans. Thanks to the 1500+ who hit the page and offered comments, but I wonder how much that cost all the content providers.
As ‘Usage Based Billing’ currently affects a small percentage of Canadians, why the outrage? What underlying meme has formented one of this country’s most intense online responses, caught the attention of the media, and resulted in a climb-down by the business friendly, non-interventionist, Conservative Federal Government? It is not about UBB per se – the fact we pay some of the highest fees for subpar service rankles Canadians.
Over 400,000 have signed and submitted the online petition from Open Media Canada, more than the 200,000+ who joined the Facebook actions against pro-roguing parliament last year.
To the delight of everyone who signed, and those (like myself) who believe that Malcolm Gladwell should go jump in a lake, the online petition has worked. At the very least, the government has forced the CRTC to delay, pending a review – see! some things can come true in election years. As a note, SHAW has also ‘Backed Away from Usage Based Billing‘ (for now)
As Mike Vardy, a Victoria BC compatriot, noted his his blog post:
First off, I am one of those that signed the petition that does understand that the CRTC’s recent decision to allow the larger ISPs to implement usage-based billing has no direct impact on me. I know that it really only affects a small percentage of the population that uses smaller providers like Teksavvy. That’s also why I signed it.
I’d love to see a provider like Teksavvy turn up around my neck of the woods. As fellow online writer Cheryl DeWolfe mentioned, we’ve got Shaw…and that’s pretty much it. So it’s highly unlikely that any decision on usage-based billing is going to help our cause right now. But if it does (or did) come into play, then it would essentially stifle innovation and growth in marketplaces that sorely need alternatives to the larger ISPs. There would be no choice, which is how things currently stand, so many of us are stuck with a provider that overcharges and under delivers.
My concerns match Mike’s, but go deeper. It might be a far reaching statement, one that would take more space and research to fully justify here, but I firmly believe: the Internet, and the data provision infrastructure, is an essential public utility. The CRTC simply is not the correct regulatory body to ‘advise’ and enact policy over the Canadian internet system – be it cable, DSL or mobile. Their mandate:
Parliament has given the CRTC the job of regulating and supervising the broadcasting and telecommunications systems in Canada. The CRTC reports to Parliament through the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
That might be fine dealing with Canadian content and broadcast licensing, but it is an over-reach to assume an authority seemingly stuck in an analogue age can deal with a new, digital communication paradigm. Just as roads, bridges, water,
electricity are (mostly) considered essential to the economy and security to citizens, and the country, and therefore under public ownership and control, so should the Canadian digital infrastructure.
The welcome reaction to the Open Media Canada petition was mainly not driven by an expectation of an immediate fee spike (most understand the situation), it was a reaction to what we all pay now – far above the monthly data access plans in other countries. Canada has some of the highest fees, and lowest provision, worldwide – whether on cable or DSL. Compare Verizon (US), Belgacom (Belgium) vs SHAW or Bell. The US fees are similar to Canada, but the bandwidth speeds are far higher, can connect to multiple users from a single account, and Verizon has a default cap at 250 Gigabytes. Belgacom has comparable to US plans for speed and users, yet the prices are around 1/3rd US rates (9 Euro per month, + $10 for unlimited download/upload on their lowest cost plan)
The insane difference are the speeds and far cheaper service options offered in other countries compared to Canada. Belgacom provides a 30 MBps download, with 4.5 MBps upload, with unlimited bandwidth (no cap) for 28 Euro a month. In contrast, Bell can only provide 6MBps on its higher cost ‘Performance Plan’, and a snail pace 2MBps for ‘Essential Plus’ (low cost) – the Bell ‘Performance Plan’ costs $31 per month (22 Euro) – and Bell, along with Shaw, Rogers, Telus et al, claim Canada has one of the best, most robust and up-to-date IT infrastructures in the world. Really? Show me a Canadian provider that can offer 30 MBps…
Canada is woefully under supplied, and over-charged, and the CRTC is unable, and unwilling, to look at the overall situation. That will take a political force to change the mandate, maybe even creating a new authority under bold, forward thinking legislation, to address the inadequacy. Unless we do, competing against the US, Asia, Europe, in an exponentially growing digital economy will be impossible. It is hard enough now. As a web designer and internet marketing consultant, it is more difficult to attract new clients with the Canadian Dollar above par to the $US, and then having to justify using Canadian developers for APPs when all our local costs are going skyward due to miss-directed regulations. Hey, Ottawa – neither Bangalore, nor Brussels, nor Seattle have bandwidth caps that stifle home grown innovation.
An Op/Ed that should be read, and understood –Tim Wu, in the Globe & Mail
The knowledge that penalties await heavy Internet usage does something quite terrible: discourage desirable behaviour. Most of Bell’s arguments for treating consumers as wrongdoers rely on the villainization of “bandwidth hogs” who use up everyone else’s bandwidth and generally bring misery to the land. But there are better words for big users of the Internet: “pioneers” and “innovators.” A nation that spends its time worrying about bandwidth caps is not a nation that leads….
In some areas, Canadians do better than Americans in protecting consumers. The one giant exception is the communications industry. There’s a reason Canadians are paying so much and getting so little. The country deserves better.
Edit: February 11th, 2011. The response on Twitter to this article has been fantastic. Aran Hamilton – @AranH has sent in another Globe & Mail article on the CRTC decision regarding ‘False News’ – yet another issue that needs some sober thought. You can contact your Member of Parliament directly on the CRTC’s role in Canadian Communication through Open Parliament.ca, a fantastic resource: Thank you Aran!