Rants n Raves – Do you know what UBB is? You soon will.

UBB stands for Usage Based Billing and is often incorrectly referred to as bandwidth caps. Most people agree that a bandwidth cap refers to the speed, or the concept of throttling back your internet access speed.  It is a creeping cancer being implemented by huge telcos like Bell and Rogers, and threatens to send the use of the internet back to the dark ages. Parents now have to worry what their kids are downloading, like music, and the family can’t enjoy affordable services like Netflix without being paranoid about going over their usage limit.

My personal story is that I lost my cable TV service because, well, I haven’t robbed any banks lately, so the ridiculously high monthly costs were out. I was left with my already expensive internet connection to watch TV and the occasional movie, mostly because TV sucks at this time of year. After all, don’t those same huge companies and all the networks assail me every day, urging me to watch “on demand”? Well, boys, you can’t have it both ways. We do watch a lot more of our entertainment over the internet these days, and the thanks we get is for these same monster companies to then penalize us for doing so, with insanely low usage limits and absurd overcharges. I already pay way too much for my internet service, then they impose a measly 15 GB limit, which I, of course, went over in a few days. Even worse they want to charge me $4 a gigabyte for every one over! Highway robbery!

Who’s fault is all this? Well, the CRTC, whose mandate is to promote Canadian content and keep us safe from all those big bad American programs, stuck their nose where they didn’t belong and rubber stamped the big telcos request to start imposing limits on their wholesale customers – the ISPs (Internet Serivice Providers). The independent ISPs were previously free to market their services however they saw fit, and most offered “unlimited” usage as a draw. No more because they’re now being squeezed by the big brother companies who control everything, and with the CRTC’s blessing. Remember that the CRTC is made up of industry cronies or those wanting cushy jobs with the telcos when their time at the CRTC is up. Sound like a cozy relationship? You betcha!

As soon as this was announced there was a backlash of angry consumers who knew where this was going. An online petition drew 160,000 signatures instantly. Prime Minister Harper, never the one to care about lowly Canadians, and much more concerned with big business, suddenly realized that this was going to come back to haunt him, so he ordered the CRTC to have another look. The result is that the CRTC is holding hearings into the issue. A kangaroo court if I ever saw one. They are taking opinions from people like you and me on their website, but they carefully craft the options to look like they actually give a damn. Not! The Chairman was quoted in a recent speech as saying that their previous decision meant Canadians have control over who they use. Who is he kidding? When every ISP in the country is forced to pass on usage limits, what choice is there? Laughable if it weren’t so serious.

The whole world is learning to use the internet as a valuable tool. Rich content is improving more and more every day. New companies are springing up to develop this content and the industry is growing in leaps and bounds. There are already reports of companies scaling back their websites so that they don’t take as much usage to visit. Everyone from people using Netflix to those using your computer as a phone will be affected. The government’s pathetic response has been to force the companies to send you a notice, usually one in your browser, warning you that you are going to go over your limit. Their gestapo tactics are also to force you to acknowledge the notice so you can’t come screaming back at them when you get the huge bill. Remember, these are the same louts that make cell phones in Canada far more expensive than they should be.

Canadians aren’t exactly known for their willingness to rise up and protest something, well, excluding the clueless idiots in Vancouver, but if YOU don’t do something, like at least file your objections on the CRTC website, we are all going to pay the price. These UBB limits in Canada are often in the area of 15 GB. In the States people are objecting to 250 GB limits! To their credit Shaw and Telus recently announced an increase to 150 GB and they cut their overage charges in half, but it’s not enough.

If we are going to give these guys a license to print money, like they need it, let’s at least look at how it’s done in the UK.  They have daily limits of 3 GB and, if you go over this limit, your speed is throttled back to 25% until the next day, when your contracted speed is restored. This is enough for a family to maybe watch a movie or play online games, but it stops anyone from gobbling up massive bandwidth running a porno site or a server in their home. This is at least a sensible option if we have to have UBB.

Two legal questions on this issue. One, didn’t Microsoft get hefty multi million dollar fines under anti-trust laws for using tactics that limited competition? So how do these big guys in Canada all get together and impose these limits, thereby forcing a competitor like Netflix out of the market? How is that different? Also, doesn’t Canada have bait and switch laws? That’s where a company promotes a low ball offer, but then forces you to buy something more expensive. The big guys have encouraged you to sign long term contracts with them to lock you in to certain monthly fees. Fine, but then they impose these limits;  charge you more if you go over and levy huge per gigabyte charges, sending your monthly bill into the stratosphere! Sounds like bait and switch to me!

Let’s get together on this one folks! We’re mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore! Right? Right?

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