When members of the federal telecommunications regulator sit down this morning to plot how they’re going to get out of the usage-based billing controversy
, they’ll finally know what has ticked the Harper government off.
After a week of hints and threats and tweets, Industry Minister Tony Clement said Saturday what the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has to do to satisfy the government on the controversial usage-based billing issue: Kill it.
On CBC Radio’s parliamentary review program “The House,” Clement said independent Internet service providers must have the freedom to offer different pricing plans to residential customers.
The CRTC’s recent ruling that a transport carrier can impose the same UBB on ISPs that buy connectivity from it that the carrier has for its own retail customers forces “one size fits all” pricing on the independents, Clement said.
It's not usage-based billiing but the imposition of it on ISPs that the government won’t tolerate.
The CRTC ruling came on an 2009 application from BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada, which has had a consumer usage-based billing plan since the fall of 2007 for its Sympatico (now Bell Internet) subscribers when it ended monthly unlimited data plans. Bell said UBB – which makes subscribers pay extra fees for downloading more than a limit each month -- is one of its Internet traffic management strategies to ensure a minority heavy data users don’t eat up bandwidth the majority pays for.
Extending UBB to ISPs who buy their connectivity from Bell ensures their unlimited rate customers can’t drain bandwidth from the telco, it argued.
But ISPs encouraged hundreds of thousands of people to sign petitions objecting to the ruling, saying in effect Bell’s rates have become their rates.
Clement agreed. “You don’t have a right to force your business structure on others,” Clement said he would tell Bell.
The Montreal-based teleco has had a near monopoly [in Ontario and Quebec, and through controlling Bell Aliant, the Maritimes] for several years, Clement added. But the policy of several governments has been “you can’t use your market force to crush competition.”
This certainly clears things up for CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein, who on Thursday told a House of Commons committee the commission on its own has decided to review its decision after facing public protest. He insisted he had no communications with the government on this, the implication being the commission has no idea what the government objects to.
In fact, he argued, the regulator’s policy stems from rigorous logic: “Ordinary Internet users should not be forced to pay for the bandwidth consumed by heavy users.” If Bell customers have to pay for going over caps, so should those who indirectly hook up to Bell’s lines through ISPs.