‘Metered’ Internet plan forced to be reviewed

In Parliament last week, the federal government told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to review its controversial decision on usage-based billing (UBB) for Internet consumers or they will overturn the decision themselves.

The CRTC, in a statement released Thursday, has delayed implementation of usage-based billing for at least 60 days to review their ruling.
“We don’t think that’s fair, we don’t think that it’s right and we don’t think that it helps with choice and competition in the market place,” explained industry minister Tony Clement.

“We think it hurts students, we think it hurts small businesses and the creators and innovators in our society.”

With pressure from larger telecom companies, the CRTC attempted to pass a ruling in which smaller and independent Internet service providers (ISPs) that offer unlimited bandwidth must follow the business models of the larger companies such as Bell.

The commission allowed larger companies to charge the usage of smaller independent Internet service providers — who essentially “rent” out the bandwidth from larger providers — in an attempt to end unlimited Internet plans.
Sceptics of usage-based billing believe that it will enable larger telecom companies to dominate the Internet industry by charging consumers based on how much bandwidth they use, therefore creating higher internet costs for heavy users such as small businesses.

Clement believes that the CRTC must review its decision in order to come up with a more viable approach that ensures competition between companies and a wider choice for consumers.

“The government is trying to manoeuvre through this without biting the bullet by establishing new rules or a new roadmap for these industries,” said Geoff Stevens, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. “I think they need to take a hard look at the CRTC and decide whether it’s structured the way it wants it to be.”

He also added that if the government ultimately decides to reject the CRTC’s decision, it would result in lower internet costs and the continued notion of an “open” Internet.

However, Stevens stated that the CRTC is only really targeting the heavy users who download excess amounts of data. “Why should a small user such as me, for example, be subsidizing for people who spend their days downloading stuff?”
Clement is concerned about the effect this situation could have on students. “Students are huge consumers of bandwidth, and we know that,” he added. “This would have a very profound effect on the ability of students to engage in educational tools and, in that sense, it is very negative on our ability to compete for the future and for students to obtain the skills they are going to need for the 21st century economy.”

On Feb. 4, Internet users against the CRTC gathered in Toronto to rally against usage-based billing. While they did not organize the event, a non-profit organization by the name of Openmedia.ca sponsors movements such as these and advocates for an open communications system in Canada.

Among the supporters at the rally were New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton and Liberal MP Dan McTeague.

“We’re hoping they come out with a favourable decision, one that overturns internet metering to the greatest extent possible,” said Openmedia.ca’s communications manager Lindsey Pinto about the issue. She also added that she hopes that they do not just come out with a mere “pricing change.”

Openmedia.ca has also launched a petition campaign to stop internet “metering.” As of now they have received about 420,000 signatures calling for this decision by the CRTC to be immediately reversed.

Considering the influence any decision could have politically, Stevens also noted the link to the election that may occur in the spring; “I don’t think you can separate this internet usage issue from the impending election politically. They are tied together.”

In question period on Feb. 3, Clement and the Conservative government were criticized by their political peers about their inactivity to intervene quickly.

Clement addressed the house by saying, “We are for broadband access, we are for the Internet, we are for the consumer.”

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