Toronto Internet users rally against the 'giga-gouge' of use-based billing
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, February 4, 2011 4:36PM EST
TORONTO - Dozens of Internet users braved the cold Friday to protest usage-based Internet billing, despite federal government indications the scheme won't be implemented.
The rally was a precursor to a national day of action scheduled to take place in several Canadian cities on Feb. 26.
"We have to keep pushing forward," said Kamil Mytnik, 26, one of the event organizers.
"We're really scared that Canadians are just going to become too passive about it, and they will simply omit the whole situation and forget about it."
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission recently approved the scheme to allow large service providers to charge heavy Internet users more.
Those who download movies, for example, would have to pay extra based on usage above a 25-gigabyte threshold.
Under swelling protest from users, however, the CRTC said Thursday it would delay implementing its ruling pending a 60-day review.
The Harper government then weighed in, with Industry Minister Tony Clement saying it would nix the scheme regardless of the review.
But the protesters, among them NDP leader Jack Layton and Liberal MP Dan McTeague, said that wasn't good enough.
They said the battle won't be over until the CRTC decision is overturned definitively.
McTeague said the government should act immediately to end the "giga-gouge."
"The job is not done until Mr. Harper and Mr. Clement do the right thing," McTeague said.
"Don't just think about it. Overturn it now."
Critics argue usage-based billing would spell the end of smaller Internet service providers and move providers such as Netflix and allow telecommunications giants like Bell and Rogers to monopolize the industry.
Among the 50 people at Friday's protest was Andrew Macdonald, who carried a sign that read: "The more you limit my bandwidth, the more free time I have to protest."
The student at Hamilton's McMaster University called the proposed usage-based billing "obscene."
"There's no competition left in Canada," he said. "We're already being shafted with our mobile plans."
Large service providers have argued those who consume more data should pay more -- that light users should not have to subsidize heavy users.
The protesters countered that Bell and Rogers want to charge up to $5 per gigabyte above the 25-gigabyte threshold when the cost of providing the bandwidth is barely a cent.
"Ultimately, our goal is not only to reverse usage-based billing, but to have complete reform of the telecommunications commission, because it's not standing up for the rights of Canadians," Mytnik said.
In Halifax, Conservative MP Maxime Bernier said Friday that Clement was looking at allowing foreign companies into Canada's telecommunications business.
"That's the solution in telecom," said Bernier, a former industry minister.
"Having more players and you're going to have more choices and you're going to have lower prices."
NDP leader Jack Layton said foreign companies weren't the solution.
"We don't want all kinds of foreign companies to come in and take over our communications," Layton told the rally.
"We want to keep our Canadian sovereignty, but that means that those Canadian companies have an obligation not to rip people off."
There was no immediate response from Clement.
The rally was organized by graphic designers, who would be hit by a bandwidth cap and extra costs for gigabytes used above the limit.
As of Friday morning, an online "Stop the Meter On Your Internet Use" petition circulated by OpenMedia.ca boasted nearly 450,000 signatures.
"The CRTC now stands fully for Consumers Rarely Taken into Consideration," McTeague said.