In Canada there has been a public outrage over the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) decision to impose caps on the amount of data Canadians can download. The government has vowed to overturn this decision, and the head of the CRTC, Konrad Von Fickenstein, was dragged before parliament. Based on this exchange two things became apparent:
- The CRTC is still intent on implementing some form of cap system on the internet use of Candians.
- The CRTC and many members of parliament do not understand how the internet works.
The CRTC based their decision almost entirely on data provided by Bell instead of seeking third party, independent, information. Konrad also extensively quoted internet usage statistics from 2009. These are meaningless now; two years ago Netflix did not offer streaming movies and most people were not yet on Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube.
The fight is not over. We must continue to put pressure on our MPs to flatly reject the CRTC desire to impose caps and limits on our internet service.
How does the cap work?
The CRTC says this "usage based billing" is designed so that people pay for what they use: those who download more should pay more. On the surface this seems fair.
But dig a little deeper and you will find this decision will have devastating consequences for the internet in Canada. The major internet service providers (ISP) like Bell and Rogers offer overpriced and non competitive packages. Canadians already pay far more on average for their internet access that most other developed countries.
There are smaller, excellent, ISPs though who offer much better rates and plans. These independent ISPs often use the physical phone lines that run into your home to deliver the internet. Bell must grant these third party ISPs access to these lines at cost over what is known as "the last mile".
Rather than compete with these ISPs, Bell has won the right from the CRTC to impose individual caps on the amount of data customers of these independent ISPs can download each month. What is worse, if anyone goes over these caps they must pay huge overage fees. These fees go directly to Bell.
What is the real issue?
The real issue here isn't how much extra Canadian's download, but rather television. Bell has a very lucrative television business that is threatened by the presence of the internet. Services like Netflix offer Canadians the opportunity to affordably watch what we want when we want to. In the coming years, the internet will take over television as our primary source of media consumption. By imposing caps, Bell makes it prohibitively expensive to use the internet for entertainment. It is no coincidence that Bell is currently attempting to take over CTV, one of Canada's largest television networks and the same CRTC appears to be letting them.
How much will I have to pay?
How much extra can Bell charge? Previously, for under $40 you could download about 200GB or more / month with a third party ISP. Under the CRTC plan you would be limited to 25GB/month and every GB over this would be billed at $1.90. This is over 100 times what it actually costs per gigabyte. Now, the same plan would cost you over $360/ month plus tax.
To put this in perspective, it would be far cheaper to buy an external hard drive, fill it with data, and send it by Canada Post. For about $110 plus tax you can buy this HDD from Future shop and send it to Afghanistan. In other words, Canada Post is a far more affordable ISP than Bell.
What can I do?
The CRTC has been ordered to revise their UBB decision, but based on the comments of the CRTC head, Konrad von Finckenstein, in the house of commons, it is clear they are still intent on some form of UBB. Any form of UBB is a tax on Canadians. Instead of a regular tax that goes to pay for public services like health care, education, roads, fire, or police services, the proceeds of this tax go straight to Bell.
It is time for the CRTC to get out of bed with Bell and start working for the needs of Canadians. Go to openmedia.ca/meter for more information on how to prevent the CRTC from imposing wrecking the internet in Canada. You can also vote with your wallets: stop giving money to Bell for your internet and instead consider a smaller, more affordable, ISP. Not only will it be cheaper, but you will get better customer service and support.