CRTC to Poll Canadians on Usage-Based Billing for Internet Use

Consultation on Internet data fees follows political pressure from Ottawa.

TORONTO -- Bowing to political pressure and a consumer backlash, Canada’s CRTC on Tuesday said it will poll Canadians on forcing controversial usage-based billing onto wholesale Internet services.

“… We will be reviewing our decisions with fresh eyes and look forward to hearing the views of Canadians,” Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the federal broadcast regulator, said when unveiling a review of its decision on Internet billing practices.

At issue is whether the CRTC can go ahead with a Jan. 25 decision to force  third-party Internet service providers (ISPs) to follow larger carriers like Rogers Communictions and Bell Canada and end unlimited data packages for heavy users of Netflix Canada, YouTube, Skype and other bandwidth hogs.

The federal cabinet, second-guessing the CRTC, last week asked the regulator to reconsider its decision on usage-based billing. 

Failing that, Ottawa said it will overturn the CRTC on usage-based billing.

Netflix Canada spokesman Steve Swasey said the U.S. video streaming giant is taking a wait-and-see attitude to the Canadian debate on Internet fees, which has implications for its newly-launched Canadian service.  

“We’re committed to Canada and excited with the growth, and just looking at the regulator (CRTC) with concern,” he said.

Netflix and other critics of the CRTC insist the regulator is sanctioning price gouging by allowing larger carriers that pay pennies to deliver a gigabyte of content to charge huge overage fees for exceeding data caps.

What’s more, smaller ISPs have been able to compete with larger carriers by offering flat-rate pricing for unlimited Internet data packages to attract subscribers. 

But the CRTC’s von Finckenstein disagrees that subscribers of small ISPs that don’t download movies or other data-rich content should subsidize heavy residential Internet consumers.

The CRTC on Tuesday also said it wanted feedback from Canadians on whether it “should set a minimum threshold level for the sale of bandwidth by large distributors to the small ISPs and, if so, what should it be.