Monday, February 07, 2011

On responsibilities

Iain Marlow comes close to the point when it comes to usage based billing. But let's push forward to a full recognition of what we should expect when the CRTC sets its policies:
Lawrence Surtees, the lead telecom analyst at research firm IDC Canada, points out that the cost to transport each byte is constantly falling – especially on fibre cables, buried in bundles of multiple strands. Of the CRTC’s average monthly download rate, which companies argue could strain their networks, Mr. Surtees says, “That’s nothing; one fibre strand can carry more than that per second.”

And this is where the question of Internet metering hits a logical brick wall that most people tend to forget. Internet service providers are for-profit, publicly traded companies with responsibilities to their shareholders. CEOs of the country’s phone and cable companies would be fired if they didn’t capitalize on exploding bandwidth usage. Not forcing metered use on their small rivals, something they already do on their own customers, would inevitably hemorrhage customers to their rivals.

Even as Mr. von Finckenstein said he would review their decision, he stood by the idea of a metered Internet. “Usage-based billing is a legitimate principle for pricing Internet services,” he told the MPs. “We are convinced that Internet services are no different than other public utilities.”

But unlike gas and electricity, which are consumed and disappear, the amount of bandwidth being used simply swells and contracts in the carriers’ pipes. The cost to transport a gigabyte can be lower than a penny, though Bell charges between $1.50 to $2.50 for each gigabyte you go over your plan – a fee that varies not by time of day, but whether you are in Ontario or Quebec.
Of course, it's absolutely true that the biggest ISP's responsibility is to try to wring every dollar they can out of their networks, even if it means charging completely disproportionate rates to their customers and third-party providers alike.

But it's equally true - and equally important to remember - that it's the job of the CRTC to regulate those same ISPs in the public interest, rather than prioritizing the freedom of big telecoms to wring every cent they can out of their dominant position. And the current outcry over UBB looks to be providing exactly the type of reminder needed to get our public institutions back to that task.

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