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Customers of small internet service providers in Ontario and Quebec received notice this week that they would be able to stream or download only a fraction of the movies and data that they had previously been allowed under the same price plan, thanks to the CRTC decision. ((Mike Derer/Associated Press))

The federal government will decide by March 1 whether to reject a CRTC decision on usage-based internet billing, after Prime Minister Stephen Harper requested a review.

Harper's communications director, Dimitri Soudas, confirmed the review Tuesday, saying the government was "very concerned" about the impact of the CRTC ruling on consumers.

Industry Minister Tony Clement said the government would decide by March 1 whether to accept the decision, send it back for review, or reject it.

"This is a very important issue for consumers, for small business, and for innovators," Clement said following a cabinet meeting in Ottawa.

Customers of small internet service providers in Ontario and Quebec received notice this week that they would be able to stream or download only a fraction of the movies and data that they had previously been allowed under the same price plan, thanks to the decision by Canada's telecommunications regulator in January.

Many small ISPs rent network access from Bell in order to create retail internet packages for their customers.

They were forced to drastically restrict their internet packages after the CRTC ruled in January that internet service providers such as Bell could charge wholesale customers based on the same usage-based caps that they charge retail customers. The CRTC ordered Bell to give its wholesale customers a 15 per cent discount relative to its retail customers and implement the new billing system by March 1.

Bell had argued that extending usage-based billing to wholesale customers was necessary to discourage excessive internet use that caused congestion on its networks.

200,000-signature petition

Consumer and internet advocates have been lobbying hard against the decision, which they said was leading to higher prices and snuffing out competition among ISPs.

They also argued it would prevent consumers from taking advantage of new services such as Netflix, which allows users to stream high-definition movies and TV episodes over the internet to their television for a monthly flat rate.

As of Tuesday, more than 200,000 people had signed a petition organized by the Vancouver-based open communications advocacy group OpenMedia.ca against the CRTC decision.

On Tuesday afternoon, NDP technology critic Charlie Angus, who has repeatedly criticized the decision, joined the federal Liberal Party in calling for the government to reverse it.

Liberal technology critic Marc Garneau said Monday that his party considered the decision to be anti-competitive because it penalizes small internet service providers.