Canada and its data caps flipflop – don’t pop the champagne yet

You could almost hear the back-slapping and popping of champaign corks at the news that the government in Canada issued a statement that the country’s CRTC could rescind the whole data cap thing or the government would do it for them.

Whoopee! Right?

Not so fast, you might want to put those corks back in the bottles.

Let’s clarify a few things first.

Caps still exist and will continue to exist

Data caps in Canada existed before the whole UBB debacle hit the web. You see there are two ways to get internet access in Canada, like much of the world: DSL and cable. Prior to this uproar cable companies that provided access e.g.: Cogeco, Shaw Cable, and I believe Rogers Cable had started putting caps on new accounts.

To give you an idea of these kind of caps here is Cogeco’s Internet pricelist:

So even at the top end of the account spectrum users are still going to be paying a $100 for only 150 GB of data – this is less that even the question cap by Comcast in the US. Now consider the proliferation behind, and marketing push of, video streaming and downloading – it won’t take long to eat through 150 GB, just do the math.

Oh and when it comes to the times when you go over all I can say is ouch:

Shaw Cable is no better as their rates are:

  • High-Speed Lite: Up to 1 Mbps download speed with a 15GB data cap
  • High-Speed: Up to 7.5 Mbps download speed with a 60GB data cap
  • High-Speed Extreme: Up to 15 Mbps download speed with a 100GB data cap
  • High-Speed Warp: Up to 50 Mbps download speed with a 175GB data cap.

Then there is the other cable player – Rogers:

  • Ultra-Lite: 500 Kbps with a data cap of 2GB
  • Lite: 3Mbps with a data cap of 15GB
  • Express: 10Mbps with a data cap of 60GB
  • Extreme: 15 Mbps with a data cap of 80GB
  • Extreme Plus: 25Mbps with a data cap of 125GB
  • Ultimate: 50 Mbps with a data cap of 175GB

However here’s the kicker – this so-called rollback that everyone is excited about doesn’t affect these companies. So even if the rollback sticks cable internet users are still stuck with onerous data caps which shouldn’t be really all that surprising since the last thing these companies want is users watching TV; or other streaming video, on the web instead of their cable channels.

Any reconsideration of data caps and UBB by the CRTC will only affect the most recent decisions which means that unless there is some sort of massive market pressure on the cable companies they will continue to have data caps.

As Prof. Michael Geist points out in a post on this:

[….]

It may matter because the CRTC review could be confined to the two most recent UBB decisions, which focus on pricing discounts, not on the affirmation of the application of wholesale UBB. If this is the case, Bell’s request to delay and the CRTC’s review could leave the basic concepts behind wholesale UBB untouched. Indeed, the decision to request a delay may have been an attempt to save UBB and simply reopen the matter of price. Given that Clement is focused on the very concept of wholesale UBB and its implications on competition, it is not clear whether the CRTC review will address the foundational questions associated with UBB by reopening all the decisions or only the most recent one (the CRTC statement says it has decided to “launch, of our own motion, a review of our decision..”).

This rollback of UBB is a done deal

Think again.

As Professor Michael Geist reports on his blog the CRTC considers this just a delay of implementation.

CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein has told a House of Commons committee that the CRTC will delay implementation of the usage based billing decision by at least 60 days. The CRTC says it will review the decision with an eye to protecting consumers, ensuring that heavy users pay for their excess usage, and that small ISPs retain maximum flexibility to innovate in the marketplace.

On top of this the CRTC seems to think that it is its responsibility to rein in this wanton use of Canadian Internet usage and that this delay will only be for 60 days.

“We don’t have a monopoly on wisdom,” he admitted, adding that CRTC had last night decided to suspend the new rules for 60 days and to review its own decision. When pressed about changes that might be coming, von Finckenstein made clear that nothing may change. “I cannot tell you what the outcome of the review is,” he repeated.

The government has now pledged publicly to block the rules in their current form, but the CRTC has yet to hear officially from any official on the matter. Though delayed, its rules currently remain in place.

Even if it changes the billing requirements, CRTC still wants to “find economic ways to discipline the use of the Internet,” von Finckenstein said in response to a question. Companies like Netflix are “putting a great stress on the Internet and there’s no incentive for companies to invest in maintaining the Internet.” Usage-based billing would encourage people to adopt more bandwidth-efficient technologies (or to forgo things like Internet video altogether, which would be terrific for cable operators).

via Ars Technica

Since when is it a government agencies responsibility to train us on how to use the Internet?

This isn’t just about independent ISPs getting the shaft.

Part of the argument against UBB is how it is giving Bell the ability to fully control the DSL market and in the end forcing the small independent DSL resellers out of business. As important as these businesses are to the whole ecosystem the shaft being given is much harder and deeper to the consumer; and this isn’t doesn’t affect the general consumer but is a wholesale death knell for any Canadian content producers.

It isn’t just those monster downloads that are counted against any data caps but also anything you upload counts against them as well. So take for example my work over at WinExtra creating and uploading our Daily Brief show. Each of those files average about 250MB in size and are uploaded 5 days a week which would work out to around 5GB per month and then there is all the podcasting that I do as well.

This is before my use of the web when it comes to my work as a blogger with all the video streaming, or listening to podcasts, or just all the reading I do each month.

Data caps would have a detrimental effect on business of all kinds but especially those that earn any kind of living from depending on the Internet.

It’s election year

While the Harper government has come out and said that they will overturn the CRTC UBB decision (the most recent one) we have to remember that this is also the government that has been a key supporter of ACTA and the total rewriting of Canadian copyright laws at the behest; and help, of the US entertainment industry.

The Harper government has never proven itself to be a consumer friendly government and I think that much of the posturing over UBB and the CRTC is more with an eye to the upcoming federal election rather than any real concern for the consumer.

As well any discussion regarding UBB and data caps it might be nice to see Bell have to reconsider its plans like this the country; and government, would be far better off if the effort was put into re-examining what already exists when it comes to data caps.

What is really needed is for Canada to have a digital roadmap for the future that put heavy accent on the consumer and the potential that the Internet has to return the country to the top of the global tech leaders list.

Going forward

I don’t hold out much hope for a digital roadmap no matter how much it would make sense to have one and as much as it is heart-warming to see the uproar over Bell’s moves I am really afraid that like most things in Canada that once the natives have been pacified we’ll find ourselves back in the same position.

As Knowlton Thomas from TechVibes writes:

OpenMedia says that one this is clear: “Canadians will decide the future of the Internet, not industry ‘stakeholders’.” But this may still be an optimistic view. While it’s certainly been proven that as consumers we carry serious clout, we’re a long way from having true power over our country’s telecommunications oligopoly.

Unfortunately, it’s a case of “time will tell.” The ball is always going to be in the corportations’ court – we’ve just got to play good defence.

As he says – time will tell but I definitely wouldn’t be popping that cork anytime too soon.

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