INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson and Lindsey Pinto
As I write this column, I’m doing what I often do when I’m on deadline; I’m surfing the web! It’s like any other day on the Internet; people are finding creative ways to express themselves by making YouTube videos, posting on Facebook, connecting through Twitter and conversing on public forums.
But if you look a little closer, you’ll notice a heightened urgency around the Internet these days. It turns out much of the recent noise online is the result of people flooding the Internet with information about the CRTC’s latest move, the decision to allow big telecom companies like Rogers, Shaw and Telus to implement what’s called usage-based billing.
Usage-based billing (UBB), which has also been described as Internet metering, means that users are charged a penalty on top of their regular monthly bill for exceeding a predetermined threshold of bandwidth use.
Those who produce art, independent news or Internet video or use the Internet as a research tool, along with people who use video services like Netflix or iTunes or play online games, may already have a special bill in the mail waiting for them.
The hit to the average Internet user’s pocketbook is one thing, but perhaps just as important is the question of how Canada’s next online innovator will afford to pay for this metered Internet. This question reveals what usage-based billing really is – a tax on creativity, innovation and free expression.
Maybe all the innovators will move to the US, but many suspect Canada is just a test bed for big telecom control. If they can pull it off here, the US telecoms can’t be far behind.
To make matters worse, many suspect these impending overage fees are actually the first step toward ISPs charging us per byte, as they currently do with data plans for smart phones. Imagine sharing your Internet connection in your home or workplace, as many do now, and having to pay for every byte each person uses.
If you’re thinking of switching to an indie ISP, that’s a good idea for other reasons, but keep in mind the recent CRTC decision allows big telecom companies to force small independent ISPs to adopt the same pricing scheme as the big players. So if the CRTC’s decision prevails, Internet users will have no choice to pay these new usage fees. They’ll have nowhere to turn.
One student in Montreal has already been charged $1,800 in “overage” fees after her Internet connection was hacked by her neighbours.
Stories like this have Canadians in a bit of a frenzy. Since the Commission’s decision, nearly 40,000 people have signed the online StopTheMeter.ca petition – possibly the most popular campaign targeted at a telecom issue in Canada’s history.
Politicians are starting to pick up on all the online activity. Late last year, the City of Vancouver, led by Councillor Andrea Reimer, adopted a motion calling for the CRTC to prevent big telecom companies from imposing UBB on Internet users. On January 20, MP Charlie Angus and the NDP put out a release calling for new rules to protect consumers from usage-based billing.
The CRTC has allowed UBB to enter our communication system, but its decisions can be reversed and legislation can be passed that safeguards independent ISPs and Internet users. Canadians can come together and participate in campaigns, such as the petition at www.stopthemeter.ca, and show politicians and regulators that they won’t accept anything less than a fully open and affordable Internet.
Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.