Affordable unlimited internet may be nigh

18 Feb
Unlimited: The only difference between Bell and Rogers' internet offers are the colours they come in.

Unlimited: The only difference between Bell and Rogers’ internet offers are the colours they come in.

Is this the week in which the never-ending saga that is usage-based internet billing finally sees its dramatic conclusion? With the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission set to rule on the whole scheme’s pricing, let’s hope so.

A quick refresher: the UBB drama began back in 2011, when Bell sought to impose its own low usage caps on wholesale internet providers. Indie ISPs said offering generous and/or unlimited monthly plans were the only way to differentiate their services from the big guys, so they fought back. With more than half a million Canadians signing a petition to stop UBB from going through, the press and eventually politicians took notice.

At the 11th hour, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and then industry minister Tony Clement told the CRTC to go back to the drawing board. After months of hearings and submissions, the regulator indeed returned with a “capacity-based billing” compromise that would let small ISPs continue to offer unlimited usage plans, with Bell and other big network owners getting some more cash out of them.

The scheme was more or less accepted by all parties, but the indie ISPs felt the fees being demanded by some network owners – especially Bell – were too high. Hence the continuing saga, which this week’s ruling will hopefully end, although that might be optimistic. These things have a tendency to drag on and on in one form or another.

There is reason for internet subscribers to be hopeful, however, with both Bell and Rogers recently unveiling their own unlimited usage plans. As some observers have noted, the companies probably wouldn’t have introduced such plans if they didn’t have a sense that the CRTC ruling is going to go against them – that indie ISPs may be getting the lower rates they asked for, which could translate into cheaper services for customers.

As is par for the course, both Bell’s and Rogers’ offerings come with a number of handcuffs. For one, the unlimited usage costs $10 extra, but that’s only if you’re already subscribed to internet, home phone and television with the respective provider. If you have fewer than three services, it’s a whopping $30 more, which would boost the average subscriber’s bill by about 60 per cent to $80 or $90. What a deal! (UPDATE: Videotron is looking to get in on this too in Quebec with promises of unlimited internet for an extra $10, although it hasn’t yet announced full details.)

The image at the top of this post is a pretty clear indictment on the state of internet competition in Canada. Not only are Bell and Rogers offering the exact same service for the exact same price with the exact same limitations, they’re even using the exact same marketing imagery. How sad.

Savvy internet users would be wise to wait until indie ISPs have a chance to digest the CRTC’s ruling before locking into the big guys’ extortionately identical plans. Many indies have continued selling large or unlimited plans during this whole usage-based-billing saga, but this week’s ruling should give them some final clarity on what sort of prices they can offer in the long term. Cheap, affordable internet without a host of limitations looks to be just around the corner.

Of course, there is always the chance that the ruling goes in the opposite direction and grants the high wholesale prices that Bell and others want. In that case, the expensive and limited unlimited plans being sold by the big guys may be the only options.

In other words, this week will be a good test of just how consumer friendly this new CRTC is.


Posted by on February 18, 2013 in bell, rogers, ubb


5 responses to “Affordable unlimited internet may be nigh

  1. Marc Venot

    February 18, 2013 at 12:43 am

    I am not with Bell or Rogers (but with Novus at Vancouver) and to feed my new mac mini I had to bump the monthly subscription to FibrNet 50 for $55 (I had FN 25 and it went exhausted which means no internet).
    What would you consider a normal price and quantity for this addiction?

  2. Tom

    February 18, 2013 at 1:15 am

    Kinda’ hard to make sense of that pricing. If they can sell unlimited for $10 to someone with 3 services, hard to understand the price jump to $30 for someone with 2 services. Feels like the cost to the consumer has less to do with the provider’s costs then it does with the provider’s manipulative tendency: they really want customers to go ‘all-in’ with one provider.

    I would guess that their stats show that once you get a customer to sign up for all their services with one provider the chances of the ever switching, or even seriously comparison shopping, are very low. And this makes sense – after all, the plans, conditions, and billing for all of these services is so complicated that switching several at once, or even trying to figure out what you are really going to save and lose by doing so, is beyond most of us.

  3. James Van Leeuwen

    February 18, 2013 at 2:45 am

    Here’s what a real indie looks like:

  4. Unlimited (*)

    February 18, 2013 at 9:52 am

    This whole data cap/unlimited issue is a boondoggle. The monthly number of bytes you transfer has nothing to do with congestion on the network. Only the bits per second (bps) at peak time affects the link capacity and the ISP’s need to build higher capacity links.

    That means that if John Doe comes home and starts streaming some short YouTube videos while catching up on the news and email, his bps cause just as much congestion as someone who is sending a constant bps all day long, such as doing cloud-based backup. So if Mary Roe is sending or receiving many gigabytes of data, most of it off-peak, she’s no more of a “bad guy” than John Doe who primarily consumes his data at peak times. JD may use a fraction of the monthly data that MR uses, but he’s equally “at fault.”

    In fact, when JD is streaming, he has no control over the bps he’s using, but MR may use a backup system that allows her to throttle bandwidth. It’s quite possible for MR to be LESS of a problem than JD even though her monthly data usage is a hundred times JD’s.

    Most ISPs have peering arrangements with other ISPs where the amount of data they send out of the network is offset by what they accept. No money is exchanged. Granted, things like Netflix may skew that but they also use content delivery networks (CDN) that keep the number of hops low and thus minimize the impact on intermediate networks. A single subscriber’s data consumption, especially given the pathetic link speeds available to Canadians, is lost in the volume of data sent or received by tens of thousands of subscribers.

    Since the fibre needs to be lit 100% of the time, the cost of running a link at 0.1% capacity is the same as 99% capacity. So all those bytes MR uses off peak on an almost idle link cost nothing.

    Bytes are not a consumable like electricity. Charging by bytes used is one of the dumbest ideas the telecartels have come up with. Other than it rakes in a ton of cash for them in overage charges. And it sets consumers at war with each other where low usage customers blame high usage customers for high bills when it’s really the outrageous billing practices of the telecartels that is to blame.

    Misdirection is the friend of magicians and telecartels. Get the consumers fighting each other so that they don’t see who’s really stealing money from their wallet.

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