Students might want to watch their internet bill in the near future. A new ruling could be bad news for consumers who use a lot of internet bandwidth.
A ruling handed down last week by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission paves the way for bigger telecom companies to impose caps and bandwidth limits on smaller internet service providers.
“What this ruling basically means is that internet is about to cost a lot more for Canadians,” said Lindsay Pinto, communications manager for OpenMedia.ca, an advocacy group for more open communication in Canada.
Currently, big telecom companies like Bell Canada sell bandwidth to independent ISPs who don’t own networks of their own. The decision would limit these smaller ISPs from offering unlimited internet usage, and would curtail download limits.
Canadian independent ISP TechSavvy Solutions Inc. asked during deliberations that the CRTC include a 50 per cent discount in their decision, but the commission granted only a 15 per cent discount.
There’s no clear consensus on what effect the ruling will have. Bell Canada, Rogers Communications Inc. and other large companies say usage-based billing is necessary to curb network congestion, while others say it’s simply a cash grab that hurts consumers in the long run.
“The CRTC is not ruling in the interest of consumers,” Pinto said, noting the ruling will make the situation hostile for independent ISPs, with the mandatory discount nowhere near enough to make the market competitive.
“It will be more difficult to start up independent ISPs,” she continued.
Mark Bramwell, a computer science professor at Western, was similarly pessimistic when it comes to the consumer.
“I predict will we soon have ‘wired’ data plans in much the same way as we have wireless plans for our cellphones,” he said, speculating the scheme might work like this: customers would prepay a certain number of gigabytes each month and ISPs profit when customers don’t use their entire allotment.
Usage-based billing has been in place for much longer for retail users, in the form of monthly bandwidth limits and per-gigabyte overage fees.
There is fierce opposition to the ruling, especially in the online world. The largest movement so far is at stopthemeter.ca, which includes a petition with almost 25,000 signatures and more than 16,000 people showing support on social media.*
The NDP has also publicly spoken out against the increase, with digital affairs critic and Member of Parliament Charlie Angus saying in a press release usage-based billing would be unfair to Canadian consumers. Angus also noted usage-based billing might hinder bandwidth-heavy services like Netflix, which delivers movies over the internet for a monthly fee.
While Canada isn’t the only country to implement usage-based billing, bandwith limits elsewhere tend to be much higher. According to statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada has the second highest overage fees among member countries, second only to Australia.
With files from Stuart A. Thompson