HILARY PAIGE SMITH
The Brunswickan (University of New Brunswick)
FREDERICTON (CUP) — It seems the government is listening to the thousands of people nationwide who are calling out for the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission to “stop the meter.”
The government is now demanding the CRTC reverse its recent decision to allow Bell Canada, one of the country’s largest internet service providers, to pass usage-based billing onto both their wholesale and retail customers.
This means independent service providers, who rent online space from Bell, are essentially forced to cap the services they offer. As well, any consumers who use more than the data they’re allocated may have to reach deeper into their pockets and shell out cash.
“The CRTC should be under no illusion — the prime minister and minister of industry will reverse this decision unless the CRTC does it itself,” a senior government official told media on Feb. 2.
Industry minister Tony Clement later confirmed this through his Twitter account, saying the “CRTC must go back to the drawing board.”
Internet consumers and online media advocates have been creating a storm online since the Jan. 25 announcement, including a massive petition signed by hundreds of thousands of Canadians.
The news raised concern from students in particular, many who do high-bandwidth activities online, like downloading music, streaming video and using Skype to keep in touch with loved ones back home. A large percentage of students also live with two or more roommates and share an Internet connection.
Nathan Collins, a third-year arts student at the University of New Brunswick, is one such student. Collins shares a home with three other roommates and they all use the Internet for gaming, downloading music, social networking and Netflix.
Collins is with Rogers Communications Inc., a company that has bandwidth caps in place and has been charging for overages by the GB for some time. Every month, he and his roommates have to pay an average of $10 extra each for going over their 60 GB allowance.
“It’s total garbage,” Collins said. “Well, I play a lot of games on the Internet, like on Xbox Live and that kind of thing and am constantly on the Internet on my laptop, but what really kills our cap is Netflix and downloading movies and games.”
Netflix, an online film streaming business, recently set up shop in Canada. Their business is expected to take a big hit if the CRTC’s decision isn’t halted before it’s put into effect on March 1.
Collins said he doesn’t feel he should have to conserve his Internet data, especially when he’s already paying a flat rate for the plan.
“It’s like the library being like, ”˜Hey, you can read books here, but only 25 pages. For every page after, it’s a buck,” he said.
Lindsey Pinto is the communications manager for OpenMedia.ca, the citizen engagement-based accessible media advocacy group responsible for the online petition.
She said the CRTC regulations go against OpenMedia’s mandate, which is “to advance and support a media communications system in Canada that adheres to the principles of access, choice, diversity, innovation and openness.”
“It basically prevents the Internet from being as affordable to people as it ought to be,” Pinto said.
“It’s this kind of decision that makes the Internet cost more for less and penalizes for over-usage, or what telecom companies deem over-usage. This decision is just going to exacerbate that.”
Pinto said usage-based billing is going to close a very open medium.
OpenMedia’s online petition went live on Oct. 1 of last year while the CRTC was in an appeal period regarding the decision. Since the decision was made official, signatures have climbed from just 40,000, to over 350,000 as of Feb. 3.
On the day the CRTC officially passed their new regulation, OpenMedia’s server crashed from the influx of consumers signing their petition. The petition has also been signed by various city councils, including Vancouver, as well as the band, Simple Plan.
Julian Williams, a second year law student at UNB, is one of many students who signed the petition. Williams has also sent letters to his MP and MLA.
“I think that, essentially, the [CRTC] is giving into big service providers and giving way too much power,” he said.
Williams also used the recent Internet outage over citizen protests in Egypt as an example of shifting too much online power into just a few hands.
“In Egypt, their Internet got shut off by a couple of phone calls going to five companies. They shut off the Internet and then 90 per cent of the population no longer had access.”
Williams is afraid his Internet service provider will switch to a capped system and hinder his online freedom.
Pinto said she is happy with the progress being made so far and is confident Canadians “will win” this one.
“We’ve done more with less. I’m terribly optimistic about this. This is one of the biggest online petitions in Canadian history. It will soon be the largest at the rate we’re growing,” she said.
“We’re going to win ”¦ we’re going to get this.”