Internet ruling sparks howls of protest

Peggy Revell

Love watching YouTube? Downloading the latest songs from iTunes?
Watching news reports from around the world? Videoconferencing with relatives thousands of miles away?
Have you signed up for Netflix?
Avid Internet users in the district could be paying a lot more for access starting March 1 thanks to a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission decision that small Internet service providers must switch to what’s known as “usage-based billing.”
Unless overturned by the federal government, the change would spell the end to high and unlimited bandwidth deals for businesses and individuals alike relying on it in a world becoming steeped in the Internet.
“Home-based businesses rely on the Internet for doing their work,” said Travis Glowasky of local design company, Studio Gibbous.
“It’s really going to make it harder for home-based businesses to do what we do,” he stressed.
Small Internet providers buy their access wholesale through one of the four major Canadian telecoms—Bell, Shaw, Telus, and Rogers. And up until now, many of these small ISPs, in turn, have been offering their clients unlimited bandwidth for a flat rate.
But the CRTC’s recent decision stated that BCE Inc. (Bell Canada) and other telecoms can require these smaller ISPs to adopt the pricing structures of the bigger companies, including lower bandwidth caps and charging per gigabyte when that is surpassed.
“It’s going to affect my business completely,” said Glowasky, noting with his current small Internet provider, Vianet, he will see his former 200 GB per month plan capped at 25 GB, with earnings from his business now being “eaten up” to pay if he goes over that amount.
“My business—if I’m sending out a file to a press house, here, Winnipeg, Bemidji, wherever—sometimes it can crawl up to be a GB [gigabyte],” he noted.
“Well, geez, I send out 25 files like that I’m done for the month, I’m totally done for the month!”
But telecoms have argued this CRTC decision is needed and imposed caps are required, citing “network congestion” due a rising number of people using the Internet.
Bell also has stated a majority of Canadians won’t be affected as they do not exceed the given bandwidth cap.
But both the NDP and Liberals have spoken out against the ruling, and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper “tweeted” yesterday that it will be reviewed.
“All the way around, education, business, regular consumers, [the CRTC’s ruling] is not good,” charged Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP John Rafferty.
“Does it make Canada more competitive? Does it make it easier for people to do business in this country?” he asked.
“And the answer is no to all of that.
“When you think that it costs Bell or Shaw a couple of cents to carry one GB [gigabyte] of information to your home, does it make sense to be charging $2.50 for it?” Rafferty questioned.
“Whose making the big money there?” he added, calling the ruling a money grab by “the big players, pure and simple.”
Technically, the larger companies have capped their own customers’ bandwidth over the past few years, Rafferty noted, and most people have not surpassed that cap.
“[But] the nature of the Internet and the size of downloads for business and for regular consumers has increased dramatically,” he stressed.
“What was relevant in 2006, it’s a very different situation now,” he argued, adding that a few years down the road, these companies easily could come back and ask for even lower caps and ultimately push to have users pay for every single piece of data they use—a “disastrous” move for Canadian consumers.
Many smaller and home-based businesses have been using these smaller Internet providers which offer unlimited bandwidth, Rafferty said.
“If you work from home and you produce something, software programs or video that people can pay for and download, and that’s your business, you’re going to suffer because it’s going to cost a lot more,” he warned.
“And also consider what it means for people who have websites—say for their businesses—and they’ve got videostreaming, or they’ve got various things on there that use a lot of GB, it will be costing them a lot more for their website.
“It becomes a lot more expensive for regular consumers,” he reiterated, pointing to how legally downloading even one movie from a service like Netflix could run up to 2.5 GB.
And not just businesses and consumers will be affected, Rafferty added, noting how people in Northern Ontario and rural areas across Canada are now often using online learning programs—relying on video, text, and other downloads—to further their education.
But while Canadians are being capped, Glowasky noted his friends in Minneapolis easily can access 250 GB a month in bandwidth.
“Canada, for price versus capacity, our Internet is 25th in the entire world,” Glowasky said. “We are being beaten out not just by the U.S., but Sweden, Germany, the UK.
“South Korea is higher [rated] for bandwidth and in cost per bandwidth,” he added, reiterating what many critics have been saying about the ruling and bandwidth caps: it hinders Canadian online innovation and is an anti-competitive measure by these companies.
And the cap comes as people are using the Internet for more and more things—from legally downloading music, movies, and video games to updating computer software and applications, videoconferencing, Internet phone services, YouTube, and “cloud-based” programs such as Google Docs, online photo storage sites, and backing up their computer’s data via the Internet.
Even gaming systems like XBoxes, Playstations, and Wii are hooked up and transferring gigabytes of data when people face off in games online, Glowasky stressed.
“It is a concern,” agreed local resident Nancy Westover, who also works from home and often downloads larger files for her job.
“A 25 GB limit is something I’ll probably hit pretty quickly.”
But the ruling won’t just affect businesses, Westover stressed, since there are so many ways people use the Internet nowadays.
“[The Internet] is like watching TV now. It’s a basic need that people have,” she remarked. “This is where we find our information, this is where we go to look anything up.
“It’s every device you have,” she added. “Apple TV is big now, all the iPods are big now, so all the little devices you have now around your house, they’re all going to be streaming now.”
And with households like her own—which have children using technology—the costs could climb even higher.
“My son could sit at the computer and watch 10 YouTube videos easy, just looking around for things,” Westover noted, adding that in some cases, there’s no choice as to whether or not a video or audio stream is opened on a site as many advertisements now run them automatically.
Most people don’t know how much bandwidth they use, Westover added, saying Internet providers need to start providing its consumers with that information and what changes—including billing costs—are on the horizon.
“What kind of costs are we going to have? Are they going to be extremely inflated or just a little bit?” she wondered.
“At this point, we don’t really have any idea.”
“I think there’s going to be a lot of upset people if all of sudden we start getting really large bills,” she warned.