Usage Based Billing. UBB. The new 4-letter word of internet service in Canada. The CRTC is allowing the big providers to start charging for internet service based on the amount of bandwidth used. You know, like it used to be 20 years ago before marketers started offering “unlimited” packages and petitioning the CRTC to force the backbone providers to support the small competing ISPs that offered these packages.
Let’s be fair here. There’s nothing ethically or logically wrong with making people pay for what they use. If you think so, you’re simply wrong. The whole world works, give or take, on usage based billing. Whether it’s the gas for your car, the electricity for your house, the food on your plate, you pay for what you use. If you download a terabyte of video every month, honestly, I don’t feel sorry for you if your bill is going up. You use more, you pay more. It’s really that simple.
Despite the people who live in Lalaland that think otherwise, internet bandwidth is not an unlimited resource. The backbone providers have to build infrastructure to support it and maintain and upgrade that infrastructure. Just like the gas or electric company, they have costs that downstream competitors don’t have. That’s why there’s a “delivery” charge on your gas and electric bills even if you don’t get that commodity from the infrastructure provider.
Reasonable people have to accept the fact that if they’re going to suck up huge amounts of internet traffic, it’s going to cost. Whether you’re a low-bandwidth user like me (in 20 years, I’ve passed the 100 GB mark once. As best I can tell, I’ve never otherwise exceeded 25 GB in all that time), or a dedicated net.sponge who lives for a RAID array filled with every bit of pirate video known to man, it is impossible to put forward a reasoned argument against the notion that you should pay for what you use. The real question is this: How much is a fair price?
And that’s where the problem lies. It’s not UBB that is the issue. The real issue in Canada is that the backbone providers, the ones setting the UBB rates, also happen to be television companies. Bell owns CTV and a satellite system. Rogers, Shaw, and Cogeco are cable conglomerates.
Television companies have absolutely no incentive to offer a method to circumvent one of their primary business lines at a reasonable price. Would you expect Honda to provide you with bus tickets and taxi chits when you buy a car? Of course not. Rather than pissing in the wind of UBB, what people should be doing is demanding that the CRTC require the backbone internet providers to split their internet business off into standalone companies. Doing this would force their television offerings to compete in the marketplace without being able to be propped up by internet revenue transferred internally to the company. It would force the backbone internet providers to compete on price. It would allow internet content providers to compete very directly against traditional television. Now, you can bet the TV companies will bitch and howl, but so what. If they have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, so be it.
Usage notwithstanding, I have to pay $10 extra per month because my ISP charges that much more if I don’t also get cable TV from them. Is that fair? Not bloody likely. But I pay it because they still offer the best combination of bandwith, speed, and price. Nevertheless, I shouldn’t be subsidizing their TV business unless I watch their TV. That goes for everyone. Paying for what you use is good. Paying for what you don’t use is not good. The CRTC needs to drive that point home with the backbone providers, and needs to use a pretty big hammer to do it.
There is no downside to splitting TV from internet at the big companies. That is what the Canadian market needs. Usage Based Billing is a red-herring to distract people from the real problem, and it has been very successful.
The other issue, which is also being glossed over is the one of “I signed a contract, how can they change it unilaterally?” That’s a major issue as well, and one that is vastly more important than whether or not usage is billed by the byte.
Consider what happens when you, the user, try to change your service contact to something lower. You get stuck with a fee, if they let you do it at all. With the UBB thing, the telcos are being allowed to unilaterally change contracts. That is wrong not because of usage based billing but because it means that contracts aren’t worth anything to a customer. What good is a contract if one party can violate it at will? No, the CRTC should not allow existing contracts to be changed (although I have no problem with renegotiation of contracts as they expire).
For this, the UBB is a side issue that distracts from the problem: The telcos are being permitted to do something that nobody else is allowed to do, nor should anyone be allowed to do it except by mutual agreement.