Feds to review CRTC

The Conservative government has called for a review into the CRTC’s recent usage-based billing decision. But despite winning the support of Canada’s major political parties, Stop The Meter founder Steve Anderson says it’s too soon to start celebrating.

The online activist, who serves as the national co-ordinator and founder of non-profit OpenMedia.ca, said his organization has now gathered nearly 250,000 signatures for its petition to stop big telecom companies from setting low bandwidth caps and gouging customers with high overage fees.

The petition was in response to a controversial ruling from the CRTC announced last week. The decision will allow ISPs like Rogers and Bell to set monthly data limits with their wholesale customers. This means independent ISPs, many of which currently offer unlimited bandwidth options to their subscribers, will have to move to a model where bandwidth caps are low and overage fees are high.

“There are not many resources in the world where the more you use it, the more it costs,” Anderson said. “The economics are totally fishy here.”

He added that, unlike water or electricity, bandwidth is not a finite resource that costs more to produce more. Low bandwidth caps and high overage charges will limit access to consumers and will stifle growth among the small business and start-up community.

“The next Google will not come out of Canada, that’s for sure,” he said.

Just hours after the Liberal Party of Canada announced it would fight against the CRTC decision, Industry Minister Tony Clement announced on Twitter that he would be “reviewing the CRTC forthwith” with a view to protecting Canadian consumers and small businesses.

The announcement was followed by a tweet from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who added that he has “asked a review of the decision.”

Marc Garneau, industry, science and technology critic for the Liberals, said he is hopeful the Conservative government follows his party’s lead and calls for a reversal of the decision after its review.

“If they come back and say ‘we’re fine with the decision’ it will be a major issue,” he said, adding that he hopes the government also proposes some real changes as opposed to simply reversing the decision and returning to the status quo.

Anderson said that while the statements coming out of Clement’s office are pretty strong, he is still waiting to hear something more specific before getting excited.

“His rhetoric is pretty strong and sounds like some of our press releases actually,” he said. “It’s good that he’s looking into it, but in we’re timid to celebrate too soon.”

Still, Anderson is hopeful that Clement will send the decision back to the CRTC to re-evaluate the issue.

“We need to continue the momentum of the decision and get even more people to sign it,” Anderson said. “If (the government) feels like the pressure is cooling off, the lobbyists will be able to turn things around.”

Rocky Gaudrault, CEO of Chatham, Ont.-based independent ISP TekSavvy Solutions Inc., said he is happy to see those who make policy decisions getting involved in the process. TekSavvy, which has referred to usage-based billing as a “tax on downloading virtually unique to Canada,” buys its bandwidth from major telecos like Bell at a wholesale rate stipulated by the CRTC.

Gaudrault said that the caps it sets as part of its Internet service plans are based on what it costs to buy and deliver bandwidth. But, by allowing huge overage charges for each incremental gigabyte a user downloads, he said, a major ISP like Bell can increase their margins at an enormous rate.

He added that in wake of its purchase of CTV, Bell doesn’t mind if its customers might have to spend an extra $50 or $60 of bandwidth charges when they download from Netflix.

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