January 24 2011 by Ellen Roseman
The Internet is becoming more video-based. But you’ll have to pay more if you want to enjoy the rich resources online.
Canada’s telecom giants (Bell and Rogers) have imposed caps on Internet use, making clients liable for surcharges if they exceed their monthly limits. Shaw is doing the same on Feb. 1.
Meanwhile, it’s getting harder to find unlimited Internet plans at smaller competitors. Those using Bell’s network have to adopt the same usage-based billing, according to a ruling last fall by Canada’s broadcast regulator.
When it comes to the Internet, I’m not a heavy user and I don’t want to subsidize heavy users through my rates. Usage-based billing has a place. But should it be the only choice in a rapidly growing marketplace?
Canada will start metering Internet use unless consumers make their voices heard. Luckily, there’s a group called Open Media, which is using social media tactics to organize opposition. It has a petition with 40,000 signatures and a Twitter campaign.
Steve Anderson of Open Media frames this as a battle to save a vital democratic tool.
For me, the efforts to close the open Internet (by metering or throttling) are in effect a war on sharing, a war on creativity, and ultimately a war on human potential.
Perhaps Iâ€™m a bit too much of a romantic for my own good, but I think the Internet can bring out the best of the human spirit; I think it has the capacity to reflect back at us, and encourage us to reach for, the potential for a more just and democratic society.
The Internet wonâ€™t itself solve the worldâ€™s problems, but it does help break down barriers between us, it does make it easier to collaborate and self organize. For me, saving the Internet is important because the Internet holds the possibility for a better world.
In wireless phones, as well, Canada has let the telecom giants run wild. There’s no regulation at the federal level. Instead, we have an industry lobby group writing a wireless code of conduct.
Not good enough. Not even close.
Since Ottawa has abdicated, Quebec passed a consumer protection law that restricts penalties charged on cellular contracts. Manitoba also plans to impose new rules, although perhaps moving too far into an area of federal responsibility. (See the Public Interest Advocacy’s Centre’s comments here.)
We’re at a turning point in Canada. The companies have too much power and consumers too little. The government is failing to ensure there’s a competitive market in telecommunications, a key area that affects all its citizens.
Consumers have to raise their voices and let Ottawa know they won’t stand for the status quo any longer.