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Keeping the Internet free for all


Calvin Tennant, a Toronto designer who organized an anti-UBB rally in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas square, says that the proposed plan would “stop innovation and stifle competition in Canada’s online economy.”

How to avoid big telecom providers to eliminate the weakest link

By Liam Scott, Staff Writer

Flickr by Anonymous9000

Imagine the following: you’ve paid for 200 liters of water a month for as long as you can remember.  One day you get a call from the water company telling you that from now on you’ll pay the same amount, but will only be able to use 25 litres every month; every liter you drink after this will come at an extra five dollar charge.

Sound unfair?  Well, if Bell and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission have their way, Internet users across Canada will soon find themselves in a similar predicament.

It’s called Usage Based Billing (UBB), and due to a recent CRTC ruling, Bell, Canada’s largest telecommunications provider, will soon lower their bandwidth caps from 200GB to 25GB per month.  The CRTC also wants to force smaller Internet Service Providers who lease internet lines from Bell to match these rates.

Consumers will be charged up to eight dollars per gigabyte for exceeding their monthly cap, meaning significantly higher rates for consumers that are already paying 20% more than Americans for Internet access.  This establishes a dangerous precedent for the future of the Internet in Canada.

Bell claims these hikes are the result of their inability to keep up with high Internet usage.  The numbers, however, tell a different story.

The cost of transferring 1GB of data is approximately $0.01 – $0.03, but under the ruling Bell would start by charging users $2.00 for every GB over their limit.  This is a price markup of about 6666.66%.  To put it in perspective, this is the equivalent to paying $30,066.37 for an IPod Nano.

Calvin Tennant, a Toronto designer who organized an anti-UBB rally in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas square, says that the proposed plan would “stop innovation and stifle competition in Canada’s online economy.”

[pullquote]“Dinosaurs will die,” says Layton.  “We can’t let the big telecoms shut out the smaller, emerging companies.”[/pullquote]

Websites like Netflix and Hulu, which are currently just breaking into the Canadian market, would not be viable under UBB as they use too much bandwidth.  And the problem will only get worse as those services take off.

“Soon, most internet applications are going to need high-speed connection and consume gigabytes of data just to operate,” says Tennant.  “With [usage] caps like these, Canada will be left behind in the digital economy.”

National Democratic Party leader Jack Layton also spoke at a rally in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square in support of the Anti-UBB movement, drawing on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for inspiration.

“We have websites like Facebook that were started in a dormitory,” said Layton. “UBB affects students and innovators first and foremost.”

Layton also signed a petition against the system, joining over 463,000 Canadians.

“I thought they do these kinds of things digitally now,” remarked Layton, to which the crowd replied, “it takes up too much bandwidth!”

The movement seems to have gotten itself heard, as all three of Canada’s major political parties have opposed the ruling.  Tony Clement, the Conservative party’s Minister of Industry, told the CRTC to reverse the ruling or the government would.  The CRTC has delayed the decision and put it up for review.  For many, this is not enough.

“It’s a bunch of crap,” exclaims Tennant.  “They’re giving everybody 60 days to forget about it and then they’ll pass it anyways.”

Such actions would probably not go uncontested, as over 80% of Canadians pay for Internet access.  

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