EDIT: Tony Clement has officially stated that if the CRTC does not reverse their position, the cabinet will overturn it for them. You can read more in the following articles:
Ottawa enters dispute over higher Internet fees
Clearing up the confusion over the caps
CRTC to review billing practices for wholesale Internet services
There’s been a bit of buzz going around our northern bit of the internet lately. You may have heard of it, especially now that Harper and major news outlets are getting in on the story. And it is a potentially ugly one.
What’s happened is that the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) has passed a decision that will give Bell and other Canadian internet service providers permission to set a bandwidth cap on all of their service plans, and then charge all customers per gigabyte for every GB they use above that cap. Small, independent ISPs are also being forced into caps. For example, starting March 1, Teksavvy’s bandwidth cap is looking to be 25 GB a month (both uploading and downloading combined) — a significant drop compared to their previous 200 GB per month. Bell’s standard cap is the same. If you use more than those 25 GB, you can expect to be charged for every GB that you go over the limit. Furthermore, Canadian ISPs are allowed to charge uneven prices across the country — Bell users in Québec receive more than double the bandwidth for the same price that customers in Ontario pay.
For the less tech-savvy who are wondering why this is a problem, bandwidth is (technically) the amount of data that can be uploaded and/or downloaded by your internet connection at any given second. Most internet service providers, however, will use “bandwidth” to describe the total amount of data you can upload or download using your connection over a single month. Every single thing you access over the internet — a single webpage, Google, YouTube videos, instant messaging, e-mail, online college courses, eBay — has a bandwidth cost. Services with streaming video (Skype, YouTube, CBC) typically have the highest bandwidth cost; streaming audio is second. If you use torrents or P2P programs for sharing video, that bandwidth might be doubled since you’re likely to be downloading from and uploading to several people at the same time.
Perhaps you don’t access the internet that much, and think that you don’t use enough bandwidth for a cap to be an issue. It’s possible that that’s true, but if you browse the internet enough to find this blog article, it isn’t likely. This article talks about a similar bandwidth cap issue that came up in the States back in 2007, and as a result they took a poll asking users what their monthly bandwidth usage was. At least 60% of the people who responded used more than 25 GB of bandwidth a month, and more than 45% used over 50GB — and that was back in 2007. Webpage sizes and the standard amount of data transferred over the internet on sites like YouTube has gone up significantly since then.
If you want a more accurate idea of how much bandwidth you use just on a regular basis, you can try downloading a program like DU Meter and letting it measure your bandwidth usage for a month. Or if you want to make a really rough estimate, do a speed test on your current internet connection. The speed test will tell you how long (roughly) it would take to download an 800 megabyte movie on your connection. (1024 megabytes = 1 gigabyte, so a movie would be just under a gig’s worth of bandwidth.) In my case, when my connection is at its peak, downloading that movie would take about 11 minutes.
That tells me that I would be using up about 1 GB of bandwidth for every 11-20 minutes of constant data transfer on my internet connection. With a 25 GB bandwidth cap, that would mean that for every month I’d have roughly 8 hours of solid data transfer before I hit the cap. If I had a faster connection, it would be even less. Add the fact that in my household there are six people sharing the same internet connection, and that would put us down to a little more than 1 hour of solid data transfer per person per month. To be fair, that’s one hour of solid data transfer, meaning 1 hour’s worth of constantly downloading gigabytes of material, but that still isn’t enough for a week, never mind a month. If we wanted to use anything more than that, we would be paying by the gigabyte.
Finally, all of this analysis is only focused on personal home use. These bandwidth caps would have an even bigger effect on business websites in Canada — especially for small businesses who rely on an online presence to bring in the customers they need. Any businesses that need to offer video content to their visitors, such as film production companies, would be hit doubly hard.
It’s gotten to the point where the issue is being taken into account by the upper levels of parliament. Stephen Harper has posted a Tweet saying that he’s looking into the CRTC’s decision, but no one knows what will be done about it yet, if anything. More public response and support is needed.
If you want to help keep the internet — and information — equal and open in Canada, there are a few things you can do. Sign the petition at StopTheMeter.ca, join the coalition or spread the word at SaveOurNet.ca, or contact your local member of parliament and tell them what you think of this.
More information on the CRTC’s decision:
Internet groups criticize CRTC bandwidth ruling
Internet download limit slashed for many
Usage Based Billing – CRTC creates A sure fire way to cripple Canada’s digital economy
CRTC Finalizes ISP Usage-Based Billing [Canada Bandwidth Cap starting March 1st]
CRTC okays use of bandwidth throttling