CRTC Shows a Little Spine at Canadian UBB Hearings
As CRTC Realizes UBB is About Competition, Not Congestion
This week Canadian regulator the CRTC is holding hearings on usage-based billing, which Canadian consumers revolted against earlier this year en masse
. Users in our Canadian broadband forums
have been tracking the proceedings, which have offered some fairly amusing sound bytes -- as incumbent ISPs like Bell defend a pricing shift independent ISPs say is intended to drive them out of business. Interestingly, the often-timid CRTC started to show something vaguely resembling intestinal fortitude at today's hearings -- correctly noting that while incumbent ISPs claim this pricing is about congestion -- it's really about a lack of competition. From The Globe and Mail
Bell argued Monday that as Internet traffic increases in an era of online video services such as Netflix, the company needs to charge its wholesale clients in a manner similar to its own retail customers – on a per-byte model that encourages consumers to think about what they choose to download or watch online. Commissioners on Monday greeted Bell’s new proposal with skepticism and hammered back at the company’s assembled executives. Len Katz, the CRTC’s vice-chair for telecommunications, said Bell frequently talks about how explosive Internet traffic is leading to congestion on the company’s network. “Yet, when I took a look at your forecast over the next five years, (Internet traffic) growth seems to have curtailed,” he said. “Am I missing something here?"
As in the States, congestion is used as a bogeyman to justify all manner of behavior, and incumbent ISPs are rarely asked to prove such congestion even exists by either regulators or the press (see AT&T's new DSL and U-Verse usage caps
). In reality, while carriers try to sell the idea that there's a bandwidth apocalypse looming if they don't get "X" (X being anything from deregulation to higher prices), the reality is traffic growth is quite manageable with only modest infrastructure upgrades for most carriers.
In the case of UBB, it has been clear for some time that incumbent companies like Bell, unhappy with just being reasonably profitable, wanted to follow the banking industry approach of the last few decades and impose new fees based entirely on imagination. In Bell's case, a side motivation was to drive smaller ISPs out of the market entirely by "double dipping" and imposing additional cost layers. While the CRTC asked a few hard questions this week, the regulator continues to by and large gingerly tiptoe around some the anti-competitive reality of UBB.