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A False Choice: Accept Network Throttles or Usage Based Pricing

Phillip Dampier July 8, 2009 Canada, Editorial & Site News 1 Comment
Phillip Dampier

Phillip Dampier

I have been following the Canadian hearings on Net Neutrality and Canada’s widespread use of bandwidth throttles and usage limits on broadband access.  It has been an issue confronting customers of the largest telephone and cable providers across Canada for at least a year.  Now that these practices have spread to wholesale accounts, which directly impact independent Internet Service Providers, it has created a major hullabaloo across the country.

The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has decided to address these two issues together during the week-long hearings.

Unfortunately for Canadians, there is considerable division about how to manage Internet traffic, based on a premise from the largest providers that they do not have the capacity to provide everything to everybody.  Of course, getting providers to cough up raw data and allowing an independent group to verify it is like trying to feed your dog a head of lettuce.  You always have a fight on your hands.

Everyone attending has an agenda, and more than a few are willing to throw each other under the bus if it means getting what they want.  Some pro-content groups who also claim to be pro-consumer, but receive money from private businesses want no bandwidth throttles and suggest usage based pricing is the better option.  Some wholesale ISPs would prefer to put up with peer-to-peer usage throttling and “equal” throttling of other Internet applications if it means no usage based pricing for their wholesale accounts.

Consumers don’t want either one, and cannot understand why an industry raking in such enormous profits can’t simply make the investments required to rake in even more profits, especially if they create their own new products and services to take advantage of the broadband marketplace they are helping to create.

Canada’s largest providers have enjoyed the fight, and have managed to take advantage of the divisions created by groups willing to sacrifice each others’ interests for their own sake: they imposed BOTH usage based pricing and bandwidth throttles.  Oh, and raised your broadband bill by at least 10% for good measure.

This comes as a result of the myopic “only my interests matter” agendas some of these groups bring to the hearing room, and Commissioners obviously realize it, based on some of their challenging questions back to those testifying.

No hearing on these issues should ever rely on an unproven premise: the great exaflood, the clogged pipes, the torrent of data is upon us and we cannot survive without imposing limits, rate increases, and try to control usage.  Bring in an independent auditor and provide full access to raw usage data, consider how much investment companies are making in their networks compared with the profits they extract from them, and then consider whether we have a problem and examine possible solutions to it.  These third party astroturf groups releasing bought-and-paid-for “independent research” and equipment manufacturers with an agenda are not suitable for the task either.

Just as we’ve seen providers attempt to custom-draw their own maps for broadband penetration, providers are only too happy to release their own massaged data, but won’t allow anyone outside of the company to do so, ostensibly for privacy and competitive reasons.  Sorry, that’s not even close to being acceptable.

Stop the Cap! opposes Internet Overcharging schemes, which include usage based pricing and limits.  But we also oppose bandwidth throttles, free passes for provider-owned content while everyone else faces some “meter,” and companies that believe in “this is fast enough for you” broadband speeds which are far slower than those in more competitive markets.  We support Net Neutrality.  We support public investment in broadband development, as well as private investment.  We’re happy to support a deregulated framework for broadband when it works for consumers.  But we want oversight and regulation where competition is insufficient or non-existent.

As we’re watching events unfold to our immediate north, it’s clear other pro-consumer organizations and those that want to claim to represent consumers must also be on the same page so we don’t make the same mistakes.  We cannot be willing to throw in the towel on Net Neutrality if it means no Internet Overcharging, and we should never support Net Neutrality alone if it subjects consumers to enormous Internet bills because of some rationing plan that subjects people to overlimit fees and paltry usage allowances.

The only real choice is fast, affordable, reliable broadband service.  If private companies can’t or aren’t willing to provide it, than it’s time for municipal or public sector projects to build the infrastructure necessary to guarantee it.

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  1. [...] Either accept usage caps and metered service plans or Net Neutrality.  Stop the Cap! has written about this strategy in the past, and it has tripped up some public policy consumer groups in the [...]







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