The CRTC recently ruled that Bell Canada be allowed to charge wholesale internet service providers on a usage basis (referred to as Usage Based Billing, or UBB). This will allow byte based billing, much like you see with mobile phones and the web. This essentially kills the ability of companies like Primus, Teksavvy and Acanac who lease lines from bell, to offer “unlimited” access. Bell will now have the right to bill them based on incremental bandwidth usage, forcing them to pass these costs along to consumers.
This ruling bothers me for a few reasons:
It stifles competition from media rich services such as Netflix, Hulu, Skype and others. It is clearly an anti-competitive act. How can Netflix hope to compete with services like Bell’s Express-Vu, when their service will no longer make financial sense to consumers. How can service providers like Primus, hope to compete with Bell, if Bell is allowed to set prices in such a way?
I like my balloons inflated, not my costs
It allows Bell to add a ridiculous incremental charge per additional gigabyte. Providers such as Primus now have to pass additional charges of over $2.50 per gigabyte in Quebec, if you go above the stated limit. Not a big deal you say? Cumulatively, how much bandwidth do you figure running those 720P YouTube videos, purchasing songs on iTunes, or downloading that latest greatest game on Steam will take? What is the actual incremental cost for an additional gigabyte of bandwidth? Who really knows – based on an interview with TekSavvy (case of the vanishing link, apologies), the estimated incremental cost for Bell is between 1 and 3 cents.
Quality of service – who really benefits besides Bell?
Over time, quality of service has been decreasing, due to Bell’s glorious throttling, yet they want to charge more and more. They essentially want to double dip, charging us twice, first for access to their glorious service, then for using it beyond what they deem “acceptable”. This is the reason I switched away from Sympatico many years ago, to get away from what I deemed unreasonable. I haven’t paid on a usage basis since my old 28.8 / 56 kbps modem days. If you argue that I’m showing a sense of entitlement, you’d be right; taxpayers directly funded the infrastructure Bell uses today, to provide service.
Show me the evidence, that services like Sympatico are becoming less and less profitable due to degrading service, and I might buy it. For now, I’ve seen no evidence to support this position. I’ve yet to see a mass exodus to Videotron, because Bell Sympatico subscribers are facing overloaded networks. In fact, the last time I heard about a mass exodus from Bell, was when they did away with their unlimited / uncapped services.
Further, if this is truly to maintain quality of service for those who are not “abusers” (Bell’s term for those who use more than their mysteriously concluded average of 5 – 15ish gigabytes per month), why aren’t those customers who browse below their monthly limit offered a credit?
Consumers, consumers, consumers
Ultimately, my question is this – who represents consumer interests? It clearly isn’t the CRTC. If the purpose of government is to represent the best interests of its people, what role exactly is the CRTC fulfilling, putting one organization’s demands first? I’m not calling for a Thoreau style act of Civil Disobedience for the internet, but this situation does seem unreasonable.
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t mind paying slightly more for internet use, if I saw a direct improvement in service AND if the additional charges were reasonable. I suspect in this case, neither case exists. I don’t mind paying for services that provide good consumer value. However, much like Quebec’s constantly deteriorating roads and the taxation to repair them, I’ve yet to see the value derived from my direct payments.
What you can do
Sign the petition over at the “Stop the Meter” site, or directly write to your member of parliament.
Anti UBB has a list of things you can do, should you wish to do more than just sign the petition.
Want to learn more?
If you’re into the whole podcast thing, CBC’s “The Spark” has part of an episode which deals with Usage Based Billing, providing interviews with the founder of the “Stop the Meter” site, as well as a spokesperson from Bell (Mirko Bibic).
Food for thought I suppose – all I can say is, I’m not happy about it.
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