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Tara Osipoff works online in the U of R library

Tara Osipoff works online in the U of R Library. She isn't using much bandwidth, but streaming movies and music have created a problem. Photo by Lisa Schick.

by Lisa Schick


After almost a full year, free internet crusaders have something to celebrate. On Nov. 15, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission released their decision which would allow many small Internet service providers to continue billing their customers on their terms.


Lindsey Pinto, communications manager with Open Media, said they’re excited about the decision. Open Media is a Canadian organization “that safeguards the open and affordable internet.” The group began lobbying hard after the CRTC began allowing usage based billing in February.


“This is a huge step for Canadians. Nobody thought we could get this far and we have. We’re taking this as a victory,” said Pinto.


Open Media lobbied for a change in the rules, saying bandwidth caps would make smaller ISPs uncompetitive, thereby homogenizing competition in the market. “(Usage-based billing) would prevent people from being able to browse the web freely without worrying about being penalized with overage fees that are disproportionate with what it costs telecom companies to route that information,” said Pinto.


The decision to allow usage based billing to small ISPs was not well received by that part of the industry. Several companies said they would go out of business if they were forced into usage-based billing because it would push their customers away to larger competitiors.


But Garth Hetterly, general manager of Your Link Inc., a small ISP to rural areas, said his company is pleased with the decision. Hetterly said right now Your Linke isn't going to be affected much by any usage-based billing, but he’s concerned about how the increasing bandwidth demand is going to be handled along the line.


“I’m scared for everybody’s future,” said Hetterly. He said Your Link’s subscriber base hasn’t increased much but their costs have increased eight-fold in the last three years. Hetterly said eventually usage-based billing, or bandwidth caps are going to be needed to control the huge growth. “This model will fail if we don’t charge for usage,” he said.


Hetterly asked why a person streaming 20 movies a month, using huge amounts of bandwidth, should pay the same price as someone who only checks his email. “Somebody’s going to have to say there’s a cost to that,” said Hetterly.


Sasktel, the biggest internet provider in Saskatchewan, won’t start charging its bandwidth customers by use. “We don’t engage in usage based billing, and we have no plans to do so in the future,” said Andy Tate with Sasktel.


In February, Bell Canada brought a request to the CRTC to be able to engage in usage based billing, or bandwidth caps. They argued streaming sites like YouTube and Netflix were straining their networks and this was the way to deal with it.


After a decision was handed down in favour of bandwidth caps, several groups across the country began lobbying to have the decision reversed. Open Media’s "Stop the Meter" petition gained more than 500,000 signatures. Pinto said the petition had a big effect on the government putting pressure on the CRTC to take another look at their decision.


On Nov. 15 the CRTC announced large telecoms could choose from two different billing situations: either continue to sell bandwidth at a wholesale price, or they could sell bandwidth to smaller ISPs on a month-by-month basis according to how much bandwidth the company thinks it will need to use that month.