About 40 people gathered at Dorchester Square on Saturday to protest the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission’s ruling that would give Bell Canada the right to force small Internet service providers to impose a usage-based billing scheme on their customers.
The small crowd seemed more inclined to listen to angry speeches delivered by the rally’s three organizers, Andrew Moore, Dennin Lucherini and Alexandre L’Heureux. Despite being prompted to voice their concerns, the crowd remained fairly silent.
“I think the turnout is a lot less than what we expected because [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] already said that he’s going to change the decision around so that there won’t be usage-based billing,” said freelance marketer and activistKlinger. “But I’ll believe it when I see it.”
The new billing scheme was originally set to take effect on March 1, but the CRTC announced on Feb. 3 that it will revisit the decision after Bell requested to postpone its implementation by 60 days.
Under the new rule, companies that are currently offering unlimited Internet access for a flat monthly rate will instead be required to cap monthly usage at 60 gigabytes. Customers who go over this amount will be issued a surcharge of $2 per kilobyte.
“[Usage-based billing] will make telecommunications inaccessible to minimum-wage workers and students,” said Moore. “Canadians already pay some of the highest charges for telecommunications in the world, so we shouldn’t let Bell put even more money in their pockets while the consumers become poorer.”
Moore also advocated on behalf of Canadian artists, claiming that the 60 GB cap will affect “…the right to self-expression here in Canada.” Furthermore, he asserted that usage-based billing would decrease the amount of Canadian content that will be available on the Internet and also limit Canadians’ access to information online.
Rallies happened Ottawa and Toronto, and another is scheduled in Edmonton on Feb. 26. As well, an online petition created by OpenMedia.ca has received over 400,000 names.
In a speech delivered to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on Feb. 3, CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein cited that Bell’s request to impose usage-based billing had been granted for two reasons: “Ordinary Internet users should not be made to pay for the bandwidth consumed by heavy users,” and “Small ISPs offer competitive alternatives to the large distributors, and it is in the best interests of consumers that they continue to do so.”
However, protesters echoed Moore’s concerns that the 60 GB cap is small enough that it will target ordinary users, and that the usage-based billing scheme is a means of price-fixing, which will reduce competition in the Internet sector.
“The CRTC have been purchased by Bell, literally,” said Moore. “They make decisions in the interests of Bell and not in the interests of the consumer.”
Klinger called for a disbandment of the CRTC, claiming, “They’re all just Rogers’ cronies, they’re all just Bell’s cronies, and they’re doing what they want to take our money.”