Cybernaut 

Metering for the masses

The big tech story in Canada these days is the CRTC's Nov. 1 decision to allow Internet Service Providers to charge customers based on usage - both the companies that piggyback on the networks owned by the big ISPs and their actual broadband customers.

According to OpenMedia, which organized a petition seeking 12,000 Canadian signatures to fight the proposal, the decision to allow metering will crush innovative services, Canada's digital competitiveness and "your wallet."

I have mixed feelings about this. I signed the petition, but only because there are too many unknowns as to how metering will actually be implemented.

As far as the innovation thing goes, I'd hate to see small startups hampered if the product they sell suddenly gets popular and their bandwidth requirements outstrip their resources.

I'd also hate it if tech companies already operating in Canada decide, after getting a higher bill for their bandwidth usage, to relocate somewhere else. What would happen if video game companies based in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver decide to relocate to any of the other cities - Houston, Seattle, Dublin, London, etc. - that are bending over backwards these days to attract high tech companies?

As for the wallet crushing, I would hate to open my bill at the end of the month and discover that a neighbour hacked into my wireless and downloaded 19 seasons of The Simpsons on my dime.

There's also an issue of scaling to consider as the Internet is being asked to do more than ever. For example, who has a Netflix account, or ditched their cable box to download shows online? Who gets all of their music online through iTunes, Zune and online radio? Who uses the cloud to store documents, photos and video? The network that provides access to the Internet has to grow in order to handle all that new broadband-sucking traffic.

On the one hand, the massive costs of expanding network capacity are part of the reason why I'm sympathetic to companies like Bell and Rogers for requesting a metered solution. Creating all that new bandwidth isn't cheap, and customers paying slightly more in the short term could drive a huge boost to Internet speeds and capacity that would be better for everybody in the long run.

On the other hand, I'd like some assurances that this isn't a cash grab, that metering will actually result in improvements to the network rather than giving companies the ability to charge and profit more without making any new investments in infrastructure.

I also have some concerns about implementation:

1) If companies are going to charge people for using more bandwidth than they're allotted under their monthly plan, I'd like to see a system in place where people who use less get a rebate. If ISP's are going to charge bandwidth hogs then it's only fair that they reward bandwidth misers.

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