Canadian carriers fired back at opponents of usage-based billing at parliamentary committee meeting Thursday, with one saying the one per cent of users who would be affecting by metered billing shouldn’t be driving the debate.
“The assertion made by some that usage-based billing makes Internet use unaffordable is simply wrong,” said Mirko Bibic, senior vice-president for government and regulatory affairs with BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada.
The hearings are a result of public outcry over a CRTC
decision to allow Bell to impose a usage-based regime on the independent Internet Service Providers that lease wholesale bandwidth from the carrier. UBB
, sometimes called metered billing, imposes caps on Internet usage, with users billed by the gigabyte for going over.
Bibic told the committee said there should be no discrimination between Bell’s retail and wholesale customers. He called it “a matter of fairness” for those who use the most traffic pay more than others.
Bell has applied this structure to its own retail customers. But some independents are still offering unlimited plans. Bell convinced the CRTC to extend its UBB rates to the independents, arguing it would drain capacity.
The independents argue metered billing will stifle innovation for companies offering high-bandwidth services and online content. More than 380,000 have signed a petition the “stop the meter.”
The CRTC is reviewing the decision under pressure from Minister of Industry Tony Clement and the federal government, who have vowed to overturn the decision.
In a heated exchange, committee vice-chair Dan McTeague accused Bibic of “pulling numbers out of the air,” having said yesterday that the decision would affect two per cent of users, rather than one. Bibic said he didn’t have a specific number, but the range was very small.
McTeague accused Bell of “crying blue” and saying the incumbent had to “choke off competitors” to pay for investment.
Bibic said Bell has invested more than $800 million in the last quarter to build wireless and wireline Internet infrastructure. He said the investments of Bell, Rogers Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc. are crucial to Canada’s status as a broadband nation.
Ken Stein, senior vice-president with Shaw Communications, also appeared before the committee, saying the company invests nearly $1 billion a year in its network to accommodate 100 per cent year-over-year growth in Internet traffic. Video and gaming are becoming the mainstream, and Shaw has to invest not only in offering more capacity, but also in other technologies to "maximize the Internet experience" for customers.
"These are costly solutions," he said.
Earlier in the day, Teresa Griffin-Muir, vice-president of regulatory affairs for Manitoba incumbent MTS Allstream, said the CRTC’s metered billing decision amounts to regulatory price-fixing. And with Bell’s pricing no longer regulated, the CRTC would have no way of knowing whether Bell was billing its retail customers the same way.