Opinion » Cybernaut


Government knuckles on metering



A few weeks ago I wrote a column suggesting that the Conservative Party had lost their biggest asset, which is the ability to make good decisions based on public opinion. My views were based on things like the conservatives extending the Afghan mission, getting rid of the long-form census and pairing tax cuts with deficit spending. I'll stick to my guns on those topics, but generally speaking I may have spoken too soon.

This week, after intense media coverage, the Conservative Party announced that they would overturn a decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) - if the CRTC didn't overturn it first - that allows the big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to impose metering on the companies that purchase their bandwith to resell it to consumers. The CRTC knuckled under pretty quickly and on Feb. 3 announced they would review their decision of a year ago.

This high level opposition to metering (or UBB for Usage Based Billing) should be applauded. All the major political parties came out against it, which goes to show how important it is to the Canadian people. It would have killed small ISPs, online services like Netflix and online gaming at the same time Canada is working to attract video game companies, small businesses that rely on the web to operate, families that use lots of bandwith, institutions like libraries and universities that provide bandwith for free, and various other high bandwith users of the Internet.

There's no denying that the CRTC didn't take a number of factors into consideration, including the fact that the new law would eventually affect all ISP providers because all of their competing networks overlap in some ways. Take Whistler: Shaw leases a portion of Bell's Olympic fibre optic network to deliver television and Internet services; Base Wireless leases a fibre connection; and both Tranzeo and Telus have contracts with other providers if their service goes down.

In Vancouver and other urban areas it's more complicated - companies may have extensive networks of their own but often rely on other telecoms to get the last mile (or metre) from their network hub into a customer's home. When one ISP adds metering into that chain of Internet delivery then all of them have no choice but to meter as well.

The impact of UBB is substantial. Customers who enjoyed 200 GB of downloads each month (and sometimes more, because limits were rarely enforced) were suddenly being limited to 25 GB for the same monthly fee, with additional charges of $1.90 for every additional GB. It's higher in Quebec at $2.35 per GB.

The thing is, while I do agree with the general concept that heavy Internet users should pay a little more, the CRTC decision was stupid. In my view, either you go full UBB or scrub metering altogether. You can't have it both ways.