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A More Expensive Internet: The Bell Way

Bell is coming under scrutiny for its recent move to introduce Usage-Based Billing (UBB) to its wholesale customers. One wholesale Internet provider, TekSavvy, is taking a stand; the company is calling on its customers to petition the CRTC to prevent Bell from introducing UBB.

Consider this the first chapter in what will likely be long drawn out battle between the Bell/Telus/Rogers and smaller ISPs across Canada - particularly in Ontario and Quebec. In a letter to its customers, Teksavvy says that if Bell is allowed to introduce UBB, it "would inherently all but remove unlimited Internet services in Ontario/Quebec and potentially cause large increases in internet costs from month to month."

As part of the plan, Bell would scrap flat-rate billing and charge ISPs for every GB used - somewhere in the range of $1.125 to $1.875 on each GB beyond the monthly allowance. Bell also wants to introduce an 'excessive usage charge' on ISPs' clients. This would charge individual users for every GB beyond an established monthly amount of 300 GBs.

Economics aside, critics argue that the recent move marks a concerted effort by the company to squeeze out competition. But, in the process of doing so, Bell is simply going to make using the Internet more expensive for all users.

Whether or not Bell is successful in its attempt to introduce UBB, the dispute highlights the dangerous nature of Internet access in Canada. If the established telecommunications companies continue to have near complete control over increasingly vital infrastructure, they will likely use it to their advantage. Worse, they will continue to control the market without having to make the infrastructure upgrades that the country desperately needs. And worse still, they'll be able to charge more, while offering less.

Canada is no longer one of the top ten countries for broadband penetration. And I don't think we're likely to move up any time soon, considering Internet users may be facing higher fees. In agreement with web enthusiasts and some economists, I would argue that high-speed, reliable access to the web is no longer a luxury - it's a necessity. The economic benefit of providing more people with high-speed Internet access has been proven by a number of studies.

One solution is federally-funded and operated government broadband network that is then rented out to private companies. Australia recently launched just such a program. Once a national broadband network is in place, private companies would be able to use it accordingly - much like the highway system.

Critics will argue that the government has no place in the broadband industry. While government-run programs aren't always the answer, I suspect that the current situation may soon require government intervention. If that's necessary, it would be nice to have the government step in with a forward-thinking, realizable plan.

But I'm guessing that if Bell gets to go ahead with its UBB plan or not, the gauntlet for our Internet dollars has been thrown.

Photo by Tyson Williams.

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