Categories
Internet My Opinion News

Capping the Net – You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Till It’s Gone

If you don’t want to read all my ramblings, here is what I want you to do to help protect and preserve the free and clear open web:

  1. Go to http://stopthemeter.ca and sign the petition
  2. Send all your friends, family, frenemies, school aquaintences and your neighbour’s cat to the same site and get them to sign the petition (well, maybe not the cat)
  3. Share the link on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else you think someone may see it
  4. Go to OpenMedia.ca and educate yourself on this very important issue.
  5. Contact your local and government representatives and demand that the CRTC start protecting the rights of consumers, not just the rights of corporations
  6. Call your Internet Service Provider and tell them point blank you are not happy with what they are doing and that you want your internet to remain free, clear and uncapped
  7. Tell your friends about this issue and get them involved

And here’s why:

You may have heard some of your geeky friends talk about the major internet service providers in Canada pushing for new legislation to allow them to cap internet use and demand pay for “overages”. And you may have heard the CRTC – the decision making body put in place to ensure fair trade and practice in the communications space – has made some decisions in this regard that in no way favour consumers. What you may not know is that this move is the first step in what could become a stifling of the internet, a blockage of services and you ending up with a web that just isn’t what it used to be.

Why it matters to you

The crux of the situation is this: Up until the last few weeks your cable internet connection has been open meaning you pay the same if you download 5kb or 300 GB per month. The Internet Service Providers (Bell, Rogers, Telus and Shaw) don’t like this. They want to charge you a base fee for a capped service (say 20GB per month) and then charge you overages (say $1 per GB) when you exceed that cap. That may sound fair but in reality it’s not. And what’s worse, it may just be the first step in an attempt to stifle the web and force you to use paid services rather than the free ones that are currently available.

Although it might not seem like such a big deal right now, capping the web will become a very big deal very soon. New services like Netflix and other streaming media are popping up everywhere, and with them come new ways of using the web. No longer can you only surf web sites. You can download or stream movies and TV when you want where you want, you can use Skype to have video conversations with multiple people at the same time, you can stream music from a myriad of services. And as quality and compression improves these services put more and more loads on your connection. As a result, whereas right now you may only use 5GB per month and get your movies at the local video rental shop, a year from now you may use 60GB per month and watch your favourite TV shows and movies from a streaming service like Netflix, XBOX Live or iTunes. And if you do, your Internet Service Provider will stuff it’s big hands deep into your pockets and pull out all your cash.

Here’s Strombo explaining it:

But isn’t that fair? Shouldn’t we pay for what we use?

This may sound fair, but in reality it’s not. As Netflix points out the actual cost of a GB of data transfer over wired lines is about 1 cent, not $1 like they want to charge. And there is no real reason to cap downloads because the capacity is there. This is just a good old fashioned moneygrab. But there may also be a more sinister reason behind it, and it relates to the Net Neutrality debate that has been raging in the US.

The Internet Service Providers have a not-so-hidden agenda – to force you to keep using their services. It’s simple really: All the major Canadian ISPs also offer TV and video-on-demand services through their cable boxes. But now companies like Netflix infringe on this market. Why watch a pay-per-view movie on Shaw for $3.99 when you can watch all the movies you want on Netflix for $8.99 per month? The trick here is to make Netflix unavailable, or too expensive, so that people are forced to stick with the old content providers. It’s as simple as that.

Net Neutrality at risk

But there’s more to it than simply trying to force people to stick with their old cable plan. This move may be the first step in an all out attack on Net Neutrality. And that’s worrysome to say the least. Net Neutrality simply means that you pay the same price regardless of what type of content you download. So reading your email, checking updates on Facebook, downloading documents from work and watching videos on YouTube and Netflix are all bundled into your internet package. In short you pay for the use of the web, not its services. In the world ISPs wants you pay based on what services you use. So if you want to use just email and facebook you pay one fee, but if you want to watch streaming video on YouTube or use your internet connection for gaming you have to pay an extra fee. And when it comes to music, TV and video the many services out there are simply blocked and you are forced to use the services authorized by the cable providers.

Sounds insane, right? Well, it’s excatly what the ISPs in the US tried to do. And it’s exactly what the ISPs here in Canada will try to do if they get the chance. The bottom line is they want to make money, and the free and open internet is preventing them from doing so so they want to shut it down. Disturbing, right? Well, it gets worse!

(To see a great exlanation of Net Neutrality go to www.theopeninter.net)

The CRTC is not here to help you (!?!?)

Last year I reported Shaw Cablesystems to the CRTC for willfully crippling HD broadcasts on their regular cable. My argument was simple: You can get CBC, CTV, Global, CityTV and Omni in HD for free if you attach a clothes hanger to a cable and hang it out your windiw. But if you have Shaw cable you get a cropped SD version of these same channels and you have to pay for an expensive HD box to get access to the free HD signal. Furthermore this was around the same time the cable companies were trying to force these same over-the-air channels to pay for the privilege of being broadcast on the cable systems. You may remember it as the “Save Local” campaign and it was one ugly piece of corporate greed, willful misinformation and outright lies on both sides.

Anyway, I contacted the CRTC and after a lot of back and forth I got one of their representatives on the phone. What he told me was truly mindboggling: When I asked him why the CRTC was not acting in the best interest of the consumers he told me point blank “That’s not our job.” He went on to tell me, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the job of the CRTC is to ensure that the cable providers follow Canadian law and act in a fair way in the market. In other words that they don’t enter into price gouging and undercutting against each other. “So you’re saying if they all just agree to raise prices to an insane level, stifle service and generally screw over the consumers, the CRTC is OK with that?” I asked. And his reply? “Yes”.

The reality is that unless I was misinformed by this CRTC employee and I’m unaware of some other government entity that has oversight over this, the Canadian consumers are not being protected from price fixing by four companies who are basically allowed to run the show on their own. It’s kind of like the mafia really. And taking this into account things really start to make sense: Why our cell phone services are crappy and more expensive than anywhere else on the planet, why we pay more for cable than our neighbours to the south, why we can’t get Netflix, Zune Marketplace, Hulu and a whole pile of other services in Canada and why we, the consumers, are being screwed over again and again without anyone standing up and saying something about it.

Time for action

Not to be blunt or anything, but this bullshit has got to stop. Canadians are far too polite when it comes to issues like this, and the big corporations take advantage of that compliance. This is one of those cases where unless you stand up, let your voice be heard and tell your elected officials they are screwing things up for everyone, we are all going to pay for it down the road. Unfortunately I’m a mere resident of this country and I have no right to vote so I’m at the mercy of those with the power of citizenship in the matter. So here’s what you should do, right now:

  1. Go to http://stopthemeter.ca and sign the petition
  2. Send all your friends, family, frenemies, school aquaintences and your neighbour’s cat to the same site and get them to sign the petition (well, maybe not the cat)
  3. Share the link on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else you think someone may see it
  4. Go to OpenMedia.ca and educate yourself on this very important issue.
  5. Contact your local and government representatives and demand that the CRTC start protecting the rights of consumers, not just the rights of corporations
  6. Call your Internet Service Provider and tell them point blank you are not happy with what they are doing and that you want your internet to remain free, clear and uncapped
  7. Tell your friends about this issue and get them involved

We are at a turning point in time. Up until now the internet has been free, clear and uncapped and as a result we have seen a massive emergence of new companies, new services and new ways of communicating, sharing and enjoying content. If the ISPs get their way, those days will soon be over and we’ll be moving backwards. That’s not acceptable. Stand up for your rights and take action!