A CRTC decision that will force small internet service providers to restrict the internet service plans available to their customers should be reversed by the federal government, the federal Liberal Party says.
"We consider this decision to be anti-competitive, because it does penalize the small internet service providers," Marc Garneau, Liberal technology critic and MP for Westmount-Ville Marie said Monday.
"We hope that the current government will review the CRTC decision and reverse it."
Many smaller internet service providers rent network access from large ISPs such as Bell and use it to create retail internet service packages to sell to their own customers.
Until now, some of those packages have included unlimited internet access — something that isn't offered by Bell, Rogers or Shaw to their retail customers. Others have offered much higher download limits than Bell, allowing their customers to stream more video or other services that use a lot of bandwidth.
Large ISPs like Bell and Rogers said usage-based caps are necessary to prevent heavy internet users from hogging too much bandwidth and causing congestion.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission agreed that usage-based billing addresses the problem. It ruled last week that Bell could charge its wholesale customers, mostly smaller internet service providers, based on the same usage-based billing schemes it uses for its retail customers, provided the wholesale customers get a 15 per discount relative to Bell's retail customers.
It also ruled that the new usage-based billing should be implemented starting March 1.
'Small business, students, people trying to set up online businesses — they're getting hammered.' — Charlie Angus, NDP technology critic
Ontario and Quebec customers of small ISPs such as Chatham, Ont.-based Teksavvy are being notified that because of the decision, their internet packages are changing on March 1. Some Ontario customers will only be able to use 25 gigabytes per month instead of 200 gigabytes, and unlimited internet plans will no longer be available. If customers exceed the new caps, they will have to pay hefty surcharges. Bell customers currently pay $1 to $2.50 per gigabyte over the limit up to a maximum of $60 per month.
The ruling has upset many customers and consumer advocacy groups.
As of Monday, 160,000 Canadians had signed an online petition created by the open communications advocacy group OpenMedia.ca, calling for the government to "Stop the Meter."
Government studying decision: Clement
Last Thursday, a Montreal man filed a petition to the federal government, asking it to reverse the CRTC decision.
In a statement Monday, Industry Minister Tony Clement said he was aware of an appeal by a "market participant."
"I can assure that, as with any ruling, this decision will be studied carefully to ensure that competition, innovation and consumers were all fairly considered," the statement added.
Charlie Angus, technology critic for the NDP, has previously stated his opposition to usage-based billing, which he believes could hurt many Canadians financially.
On Monday, Angus, who is also the MP for Timmins-James Bay, reiterated his concerns.
"I think there's serious problems with the decision," he said. "Small business, students, people trying to set up online businesses — they're getting hammered."
He added that his phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from people concerned about the issue.
Like Garneau, Angus believes the decision is anti-competitive, and not just because of the way it affects smaller internet service providers.
He said the bandwidth caps will discourage people from exploring new alternatives to Bell, Rogers and Shaw's television services.
As an example, he pointed to Netflix, which allows people to stream high-definition movies through the internet to their TVs via devices like the Sony Playstation 3.
"Now they're saying it's not going to be financially worth their while to explore these new media offerings, so they'll end up back in the hands of the ISPs who are also the content providers."
He added that the large ISPs are "wearing way too many hats on this file."
Angus wouldn't go as far as to call for a reversal of the CRTC decision but said his party would "hold CRTC to account that their primary objective should be ensuring the public interest is protected whenever these decisions are made."