Cable & Telecom

UBB: The heat is on

OTTAWA – It’s pretty safe to say that when the Prime Minister is moved enough by an issue to tweet about it, the country’s big ISPs are going to be feeling some heat.

Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, buffeted by the ever-growing digital wind which is howling about the CRTC’s usage-based billing decision of January 25th (and some UBB decisions before that), took to Twitter (well, his people who write that sort of stuff for him, anyway) to say that he has asked for a review of the decision.

This came a day after his Minister of Industry, Tony Clement, said he’s looking into it and after the Liberal Party said they wanted to look into it too. As for the NDP, it wanted the government to look into it even before the January 25th decision (We haven’t seen the Bloc make an official statement on it yet).

“As Canada’s Industry Minister, it is my job to encourage an innovative and competitive marketplace and to ensure that Canadian consumers have real choices in the services they purchase. I can assure that, as with any ruling, these decisions will be studied carefully to ensure that competition, innovation and consumers were all fairly considered,” said Clement in his release late Monday.

“We do not agree with the CRTC’s decision on usage-based billing, and we will bring the fight for an open and innovative internet environment to Parliament,” said Liberal Industry, Science and Technology Critic Marc Garneau in his party’s press release.

The politicians, of course, see it as an election issue (the Liberal release on the issue has a link taking you right to the party donation page) having been moved by the effective campaign of, whose petition on the issue has grown to more than 280,000 entries at last visit.

Canadian ISPs have deployed UBB at the retail level since at least 2006 and began enforcing caps circa 2008. The CRTC’s decision at the crux of this debate lets ISPs levy those limits on third party ISPs who lease their networks. That means no more “unlimited” Internet for customers of the likes of independent ISPs such as Teksavvy and Primus. They simply can’t afford to absorb those costs.

For Bell Canada, this is a matter of some serious, quick, education, according to the company’s senior vice-president of regulatory and governmental affairs, Mirko Bibic.

“We have to make sure that we educate the public policy makers and I think our job number one is to put it in perspective,” he told in an interview Tuesday, “…that it’s really only affecting a very very small proportion of people.”

“It’s inevitable that ISPs around the world will have to move to a usage based pricing model to be able to manage the growing consumption and to make sure that those who truly use a lot of bandwidth, pay for that bandwidth.”

Bibic said there are about 300,000 end users who use the services of wholesale ISPs which ride on the Bell network and about 10% actually get charged for going over Bell’s bandwidth caps. “So we’re talking about 30,000 super high volume users who this is affecting,” he explained. “And they’re actually the ones using so much that they are affecting the experience of the others.”

If you look at the median usage on our networks, it’s six Gigs a month,” he continued, “The average is 16. Now why is the average so much higher than the median? It’s the few who use tons of bandwidth.”

Bell’s starter broadband plan offers 25 Gb/month, which easily covers the median and average figure.

As for the critics who insist that providing extra Gigs of data fall in the pennies per month range and that Bell and others are overcharging customers?

“It’s easy to comment from the perspective of someone who is running a business without investing in the capacity,” said Bibic. “We are the ones investing, just on the Internet alone, hundreds of millions of dollars a year in growing the capacity.

“The way we’ve designed the caps will accommodate a lot of Netflix viewing by the average user.”

However, given the attention this issue is gathering in the media, on blogs and various other places all over the web – no matter the relative few people the issue affects right now – and how it’s grown into a sexy political issue, expect this issue to be lobbed back into the Commission’s lap for review, no matter how well the ISPs try to educate the folks on the Hill.

– Greg O’Brien

Our industry and COVID-19

We've gathered a number of links where Canadian cable, radio, television, telecom and wireless companies have posted their responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.