Unlimited Internet?

Montrealers Gather Together to Oppose Limitations on the Internet

Protestors take their anger over the CRTC’s decision to increase the cost of Internet usage to Montreal’s Dorchester Square. Photo Erin Sparks
Photo Erin Sparks

Canadians breathed a sigh of relief last Thursday when the federal government opposed the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission’s plan to implement usage-based billing on Internet providers.

If imposed, UBB would see an increase in Internet fees and weaken competitiveness between independent and larger Internet providers.

While some rejoiced by streaming online, others took to the street to voice their concerns about an issue that Canadians haven’t heard the end of quite yet.

A group of about 40 people gathered in Dorchester Square on Saturday to speak out against UBB. The turn out was underwhelming to some that attended.

“It is a disappointment to see the turn-out,” said Colin Smith, who attended the rally. “It’s an important issue that affects us all.”

Although masses of people didn’t attend Saturday’s protest, the Internet saw a cyber uproar regarding the ruling. So far, 416,200 Canadians have signed an online petition opposing the CRTC’s plan.

About 550,000 people use independent Internet service providers in Canada and will be directly affected by the ruling if implemented.

“I come from Romania where it’s inconceivable to have limited Internet,” said Smith. “They don’t have the concept of limited Internet there. It’s $15 a month for unlimited Internet.”

The bandwidth available in Canada is unlimited as well, according to Andrew Moore, organizer of Saturday’s rally.

“Unlike resources classified as utilities such as oil and electricity, [bandwidth] does not disappear once it is used,” he said. “[CRTC] trying to treat the Internet like a utility is unfortunately causing a situation where the population perceives bandwidth as an extremely limited and finite resource.”

Moore said that regardless of the government’s decision to speak out against UBB, this issue is far from over.
“The CRTC only delayed the implementation of the UBB decision until May 1 for further review,” he said. “We do not know yet what ‘further review’ means.”

Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the CRTC, released a statement last Thursday that reaffirmed the organization’s intent to impose UBB.

“I would like to reiterate the Commission’s view that usage-based billing is a legitimate principle for pricing Internet services,” said Finckenstein. “We are convinced that Internet services are no different than other public utilities, and the vast majority of Internet users should not be asked to subsidize a small minority of heavy users.”

Moore said it was important people attended Saturday’s rally to send a clear message to Canadian telecoms and regulators.

“Essentially, particularly for the younger generation, the Internet has become an incredibly important tool for communication, education, for business enterprises, but most and foremost it has been extremely important to open up the borders of all the nations of the world,” Moore said.

“In adding limits to the Internet, we’re basically closing our borders around Canada—we’re closing ourselves out from the world.”

“We need unlimited Internet to communicate with the world,” Smith said. “When you introduce usage-based billing, you’re limiting people’s freedoms.”

Many people, including Moore and Smith, are not only concerned with the personal implications for putting a cap on the Internet; they are worried about the possible outcome for smaller Internet providers.

If UBB is implemented in Canada, consumers will have little to no choice when looking for an Internet service package.

“If UBB is approved, they are going to kill the small companies,” said Smith. “That’s not democratic at all.”

Moore said that Quebecers should be aware of the existence of cheaper alternatives to Bell and Videotron.

“I hope that this issue informs people that there are in fact companies such as Acanac, AEI and TekSavvy which provide unlimited Internet. If more consumers choose the competition, it will only make Bell and Videotron think twice about the viability of UBB on their packages.”

Similar demonstrations took place in major Canadian cities over the weekend.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 22, published February 8, 2011.