Just let me pay for it

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By Alayne Martell

The Internet. Love it or hate it, most of us need it. And with it comes many debates. Most recently the controversy is growing over the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) recent ruling regarding usage-based-billing (UBB). The ruling would allow large telecom companies such as Bell and Rogers to force independent Internet service providers (ISPs) to adopt the same UBB structure they use. Interestingly enough, the same big guns sell wholesale access to these smaller ISPs, essentially preventing them from remaining competitive.

Then the federal government chimed in. Last week, during an industry committee hearing, the CRTC indicated it would be delaying the implementation for 60 days while it is reviewed. Industry Minister Tony Clement followed that up with the proclamation (by Twitter no less…that could be fodder for a whole other blog post) that if the CRTC comes back with the same outcome, cabinet would overturn it.

Looks like this debate could become heated.

All this political mumbo jumbo aside, I felt compelled to weigh in on the issue and although the majority of Internet users may not share my views, they’re mine, so here goes.

To set the stage, let me give some background. I live on a remote island and I work from my home. If it wasn’t for the Internet, I couldn’t live where I live and I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing (Dr. Seuss anyone?). However, connecting to the Internet here is a challenge. I tried satellite Internet but was constantly frustrated by the atmospheric conditions (their words not mine) that hampered my signal. They also had something called a fair-access policy, which cut your bandwidth if you used too much (sound familiar?). So now I am using a system that picks up a wireless signal from a tower that is located on the island and I pay a flat monthly fee. For some reason, the signal to my house gets confused and my service is sketchy at best. The gentleman who owns the business has been trying hard (for months) to get things fixed, but it has been an exercise in frustration. He also tells me that he is having some bandwidth issues because of some heavy users (sound familiar?).

So what’s my view on Internet usage? Please let me pay whatever price it takes so that I can access the Internet when I need and want to.

Think about it. If I am cold, I turn up the heat and I expect to pay more for my heating costs. If I am hungry and I decide to go for the foot-long sub rather than the six-inch, that’s going to cost me more. If I want more channels on my television, my bill increases. You get the idea.

There is also a debate over whether people who use large amounts of bandwidth are “Internet hogs” or “innovators and pioneers.” I won’t judge these people; I just wish I could be one of them. Having said that, I would expect to pay for the service.

Perhaps at this point I should confess to having stopped on the side of the road to try and hook into an unsecured wireless signal. Used it, didn’t pay a cent and kept on driving. I suspect my luck in picking up an unsecured wireless signal will become a lot harder if this UBB ruling goes through.

What are your thoughts? Do we take the Internet for granted? Would you limit your usage if you had to pay extra for more bandwidth?

Photo courtesy of OpenMedia’s Flickr page.

/// COMMENTS

9 Comments »
  • Dave P

    February 10, 2011 12:38 pm

    So, UBB is good for home heating, for gasoline and other products, so it should be good for internet-y goodness too.

    There are some problems though:

    - Home heating companies are thoroughly regulated and their ability to charge what they charge is also regulated. Gasoline is not regulated, and thus there is real competition, ensuring prices are regulated by the market.

    - The big ISPs own the pipe going into your house. They do so because a historical monopoly. Their use of that monopoly needs to be viewed only with great suspicion. And even more so, when they have become competitors in terms of content provision. Non-internt content (VOD movies for instance) compete directly with many internet content and the owner of the “pipe” has a huge incentive to reduce access for ITunes, Netflix, etc. That incentive needs to be regulated (given the monopoly).

    - Usage based is OK, as long as it is monitored, transparent and clear. The trick there is that the consumer cannot really understand their usage information without some half-decent technical know-how. Therefore, the CRTC would have to do it – and the CRTC sucks at everything it does.

    - The one thing that this makes clear is that if UBB is to exist, net neutrality must also exist. The high-volume content is already discriminated against through the pricing model, so the rest of the net must remain neutral to avoid discriminating twice.

    - Having said all of that. I don’t really know the answer other than to say that Alayne should have better access than she does.

    • Alayne Martell

      February 10, 2011 5:49 pm

      Dave, thanks for your opinion on this hot button topic. I appreciate your sentiment that I should have better access than I do. I think your comment that it should be monitored, transparent and clear is key, but as you say, might be difficult. Thanks for weighing in!

  • Lavena Crocker

    February 10, 2011 1:29 pm

    I am currently connected to Explorenet with a big ugly-ass satellite stuck on my house which ended up costing me $700+ just to get it set up (all “hidden cost” included) and then $60/month thereafter. I live in an area where this is my only option. $700? Come on!
    In addition to my frustrations, I need not go online for long and my signal becomes so slow it CANNOT be used. I was told by the salesman my signal would slow down after I exceeded my “usage” but it would be so minimal and I probably wouldn’t even notice. I WANT TO PAY FOR WHAT I USE, rather than cut me the hell off for a 24 hour period! Not that it’s any business of anybody but I do enjoy watching videos and such but after about 10 short Banjo Lessons on YouTube (like 3.5 minutes)I get cut off without any reimbursement of my 60 bucks/month. If I total all the 24 hour periods that I cannot use my internet I should be getting about $24 in refund. And what about all the days and sometimes it could be 4 or 5 days straight that I don’t even go online, why is that not considered banked time? My god this is 2011!
    Lavena

    • Alayne Martell

      February 10, 2011 5:44 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Lavena. It’s apparent you share my frustrations with less than ideal Internet service. Perhaps with usage-based billing we may actually get what we pay for and can make our buying decisions based on that. Best of luck.

  • Dan Connolly

    February 10, 2011 4:00 pm

    From my perspective, the two main reasons the Big Two (Rogers and Bell) would like to see usage-based billing (UBB) is because they’re starting to lose income from television and phone services.

    Over the years they’ve managed to increase revenue by compartmentalising their TV programming to the point where we have to pay a hefty premium if we want to watch everything from classic movies to reruns of Gilligan’s Island – all of which at one time came free with basic cable. It’s been a real cash cow for them. There are no production costs and relatively cheap royalties. Unfortunately the gravy train is being siphoned off by the likes of network webcasts and Netflix.

    Their highly overpriced home phone packages are also facing stiff competition by VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services such as Comwave whose full package – unlimited long distance in North America and ten calling features – at $29 per month beats the pants off of anything Bell or Rogers can offer.

    Don’t get me started on cell phone rates.

    The only thing they have real control over is the pipeline so their only recourse is UBB, and I don’t have much confidence that they’ll show much fairness on pricing as their collective track records indicate.

    Last year the Canadian Government pledged $225 Million in broadband stimulus money to increase coverage in rural areas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_broadband_plans_from_around_the_world#Canada
    We currently enjoy 93 per cent coverage in urban areas due in no small part, I surmise, to taxpayer funding.

    I have only one question.

    If UBB is implemented in the future, who will decide what the fair market value for broadband usage is? God help us if it’s left up to the corporate conscious.

    • Alayne Martell

      February 10, 2011 5:40 pm

      Good points, Dan. Interestingly enough, the fact that the provider I use now is in my area meets the government’s mandate of increasing coverage in rural areas. As such, no other broadband providers will come in. Therefore, no competition and in my opinion, no real motivation to fix what is broken. I agree, God help us if the fair market value for broadband usage is left up to the corporate conscious. But in my case, if it worked, I would happily pay for it. Thanks for commenting.

  • Darron

    February 10, 2011 7:36 pm

    Wow – looking at the issues with internet out in rural-land really makes me more thankful for what we have out here! I do remember being very excited to stop in at schools with community internet access once I hit the east coast when I biked across Canada a couple summers ago…

    That being said – I don’t necessarily have a problem with usage based billing. If we compare my usage to say, my mom’s, she probably uses less bandwidth on her home internet than I use on my cell phone. She shouldn’t have to pay as much as me to do that.

    I’ve been thinking about switching from Shaw to Telus because I’m having reliability issues and because Telus offers more monthly usage than Shaw. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to pay $47 a month for 125 GB, or jump to $63 for 250 GB.

    That being said, Shaw wants me to pay $47 for 60 GB and $107 for 175 GB. That’s the kind of inconsistency that irritates me. How is 250 GB $63 with one company, and 175 GB with another is $43 more expensive? I mean, come on!

    • Alayne Martell

      February 10, 2011 9:40 pm

      It was interesting to hear the variances in rates between companies, thanks for commenting Darron. Not having the need to shop around for alternate providers here, I never really delved into the costs. I think consistency in pricing will be key and hopefully part of the equation.

  • Helen Teed

    February 11, 2011 8:05 am

    Altho dial up is a pain in the ass for things like YouTube….I find that my dial up is always consistent,continuous and i never complain about the service. For 30.00 a month I get exactly what a pay for and alot of “high speed” users in this same area as Alayne and Lavena have slower internet if at all then myself. My choice to not go with the local guy here or satellite service is because of the poor quality you get for a huge price. When and if s good high speed service comes here with decent speed and service, I will then switch. I guess new and better isnt always so…..sometimes the basics get the job done! Great blog Alayne :)

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