With Bell backing down on Internet billing, it just might not become an election issue (but it probably should be)

With Bell backing down on Internet billing, it just might not become an election issue (but it probably should be)

The hordes of angry Internet users who were outraged about the CRTC’s decision on usage-based billing (UBB) chalked up a minor win yesterday. Bell announced a new pricing plan that would allow independent Internet service providers to buy wholesale access in large chunks without having to pass on the caps and overage charges Bell was insisting on. (The previous policy could have been summed up as “do what we say and thank us for the privilege.”) Many observers, however, say it’s not enough.

To wit, here is Bell critic Michael Geist:

My primary take-away from Bell’s backtrack is to note how it affirms that there are two paths to keeping dominant market players from taking advantage of their position to the detriment of consumers and smaller businesses. The first is competition—with enough competition, dominant players become less dominant and are forced to respond with better pricing and services. The second—which arises in the absence of such competition—is regulatory or political pressure.

Bell’s backtrack, which is entirely the result of political and public pressure (the independent ISPs were powerless and the regulator approved the wholesale UBB approach), is a reminder that Canada still does not have a sufficiently competitive environment to effect change. Instead, Canada still needs regulatory or political pressure to help foster a more competitive outcome.

So anyone who read this news and didn’t think it was an election story is missing something. Bell and Rogers are, after all, federally regulated companies, and both would probably prefer to hide for a bit during the election and hope that no party decides to beat them like a drum to get voters to come looking to see what all the noise is. Purely on marketing grounds, this is a smart move by Bell. And even if regulation doesn’t push it further, this is a good news story for consumers.

Now, one question remains: where are the rest of the telecom giants on all this? It’s yet unclear, but we’re pretty confident that if Rogers would just stop throttling World of Warcraft, Canada’s telecom aristocracy could probably sail through this pesky election without too much trouble.

• UBB is Dead. Long Live UBB [MichaelGeist.ca]
• Bell backs off on Internet billing [Toronto Star]
• BCE backtracks on plan for Internet usage billing [Globe and Mail]
Oops: major Canadian ISP admits throttling World of Warcraft [Ars Technica]