Inside Politics

Backlash grows over usage-based Internet billing

A post from CBC colleague Allie Elwell:

If you've been on Twitter this weekend you've likely seen the tweets urging you to "Stop the Meter," referring to an online campaign by to stop usage-based Internet billing.

Canadians, it seems, have taken notice. In the last week alone, says their petition has grown from 40,000 signatories to 170,000 with more signing on by the minute.

"[Usage-based billing] is a problem for people who create and enjoy content," says OpenMedia's Lindsay Pinto. She says non-partisan organization has been overwhelmed with support from people creating YouTube videos and going door-to-door to get more signatures.

There's even a Facebook event calling for a protest in downtown Toronto on Friday.

The campaign began last year when the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission agreed with Bell over the right to impose usage-based billing on its Internet customers. But the recent surge in interest stems from last week's decision by the CRTC that effectively ends unlimited Internet use in Canada.

Customers of major Internet service providers, such as Bell and Rogers, are already familiar with the limits of bandwidth and the extra costs that come with exceeding their monthly cap. Those wishing for more freedom have chosen independent ISPs such as Teksavvy, which offered much higher bandwidth to users.

Before the most last week's CRTC decision, a Teksavvy customer would pay $31.95 a month for 5mbps of download speed and 250GB a month. Compare that to Rogers' similarly priced plan, Rogers Lite Internet, which gives users 3Mbps of speed and 15GB a month for $35.95.

Now all independent ISPs must cap their plans at 25GB a month, a significant decrease in the era of downloadable movies, rich media files and voice-over-Internet telecommunications such as Skype.

On-demand video services from the big ISPs themselves are exempt from the caps, which critics say runs counter to the argument that this is about online traffic management.

Additional bandwidth is available for purchase but it hasn't slowed the Twitter anger:

@davidreyaud For me, a $15 increase in my bill is a 44.6% increase. #cdnpoli #StopTheMeter @TonyClement_MP @OpenMedia_ca #crtc

@zachbussey I call on the people of Parry Sound-Muskoka to protest in front of @TonyClement_MP's office till he does something! #StopTheMeter

@spectresotchet Oh, you wanted to USE the Internet? Yeah, that costs extra. @TonyClement_MP #stopthemeter #cdnpoli #whatsthematterwithyou !?

Minister Tony Clement issued a statement Monday saying it's his job to help "encourage an innovative and competitive marketplace, and to ensure Canadian consumers have real choices in the services they purchase.

"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."

[Related story: Reverse internet billing decision, Liberals say]

However, Internet guru Michael Geist says the problem is that dominant providers such as Bell and Rogers can implement widely unpopular plans without fear of loosing their customer base. He says the CRTC and the Competition Bureau need to do more to protect Canadian consumers.

A report by the Harvard-based Berkman Center for Internet & Society ranks Canada 22nd out of 30 OECD countries for overall Internet access, based on penetration, speed and price, according to data obtained in 2008. The United States, Portugal, Italy and Austria all rank ahead of Canada.

"The government is asleep at the switch," Geist says, when it comes to promoting a strong Internet policy.

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