CRTC rules in favour of usage-based internet billing
Last Tuesday, the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) ruled in favour of usage-based billing for internet services in Canada. What this means is that internet providers have received the green light to start charging Canadians for the internet bandwidth they use, similar to how users are currently billed for their cell phone useage. The ruling has been hotly contested by user internet advocacy groups, such as Open Media, which has since started a petition that has been signed by over 107,000 people as of today.
What’s troubling about the ruling is that the CRTC is intended to be an independent, government-sanctioned regulatory body. It’s mandate is to “ensure that both the broadcasting and telecommunications systems serve the Canadian public”, using the “objectives in the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act to guide its policy decisions”. In this case, it’s really the Telecommunications Act that is the relevant Act, and if you review the objectives outlined within the Act itself (I’ve taken the liberty of including the pertinent ones below), you’ll notice the Act isn’t exactly vague about what CRTC’s telecommunications policies should support.
It is hereby affirmed that telecommunications performs an essential role in the maintenance of Canada’s identity and sovereignty and that the Canadian telecommunications policy has as its objectives
- to facilitate the orderly development throughout Canada of a telecommunications system that serves to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the social and economic fabric of Canada and its regions;
- to render reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada;
- to enhance the efficiency and competitiveness, at the national and international levels, of Canadian telecommunications;
- to foster increased reliance on market forces for the provision of telecommunications services and to ensure that regulation, where required, is efficient and effective;
- to respond to the economic and social requirements of users of telecommunications services;
The CRTC’s latest ruling doesn’t appear to meet any of the above objectives. On the contrary, their ruling undermines many of the objectives set out in the Telecommunications Act. While other countries are establishing policies in the effort to promote net neutrality and accessible telecommunications, the CRTC seems to be doing the opposite. Not only does their new policy seem to have little to no benefit for the general user, but the ones with the most to gain would appear to be the large telecommunications corporations like Bell and Rogers. As a result of the ruling, even small to medium sized businesses who purchase bandwidth from the Bell and Rogers giants and sell internet services to the public will be forced to pay more and pass their increased costs down to the consumer. At the moment, small and medium sized internet providers run their businesses on the basis of being able to provide good service at a lower cost of entry than the giants. By introducing this new policy, the CRTC is in effect raising barriers to the survival of small to medium internet providers, thereby reducing the amount of competition and selection in the market. Another facet that doesn’t seem to benefit the greater public. What’s more, internet consumption and data usage are expected to rise globally, not decrease. For Canada to promote innovation and remain competitive, accessibility to telecommunications is essential. Instead, we see it being restricted.
Both CBC and George Stroumboulopoulos have featured the CRTC’s usage-based billing ruling in their reports over the last week. I’ve included them below:
As a complete aside, despite the waves of news coverage, if you go to the CRTC website, their recent ruling is not mentioned. Not in their newsfeed. Not as a press release. No where. Why is that? Interesting.