updated 06:00 pm EST, Thu February 3, 2011
CRTC stalls UBB Internet plan but will face change
Under pressure from the Canadian government, the CRTC said it would delay its plans to impose usage-based billing on smaller Internet providers but also faced a mandatory change. Chairman Konrad von Finckenstein said the agency would stall the plans from the March 1 date by "at least 60 days" in response to the "evident concerns" about the fairness of the plan. He refused to revoke the controversial plan immediately, however, and attempted to regain control by saying any CRTC changes would come "of our own motion" in a review.
Bell is known to have requested the delay and argued that it would review the situation regarding "protecting consumers" and allowing independents their flexibility while still having frequent users pay.
The statement came despite a hearing on Thursday evening making clear that the ruling needed to change. Industry Minister Tony Clement said that he would honor the review but warned that the CRTC wouldn't be allowed to come to the same conclusion. If the agency had the same view of usage-based billing, the government would use its authority to overturn the ruling and take it out entirely, Clement explained.
During the hearing, von Finckenstein and officials sided with carriers. They argued that it was a "fundamental fairness" that light users didn't subsidy those who used much more. Observers noted that much of the attitude didn't address questions of competition from smaller providers and didn't appear to be independent conceived with public opinion in mind.
"[The] CRTC responses make it sound like Bell runs the show," University of Ottawa professor and Canada Research Chair for Internet issues Michael Geist said.
The now-delayed policy had attracted widespread public criticism after it risked gutting the business models of independent ISPs. With the new CRTC regulation, small carriers reselling service would be forced to cap their service and charge overage fees if the major host ISP did the same. Smaller carriers would have had no way to offer a better deal even if economically justifiable, and it may have raised antitrust issues as video providers like iTunes or Netflix would have been deterred while incumbents' legacy TV service would be protected.