interweb freedom

(formerly Stop Usage Based Billing)

Answering UBB Questions #1

Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on November 16, 2010

No Usage Based BillingThe first question posted on the new UBB Question page is from Paul’s two part question that I think requires a three part answer.

Question # 1)

Does Bell currently charge its own customers with a Usage-Based Billing method, and is simply seeking permission to extend this to its resellers? Or is it seeking permission to use this model, even with its own customers?

Answer # 1)

Bell does currently charge their own customers UBB along with caps.

That is to say, the customers who are not still on the Unlimited packages that Bell originally entered the Internet market with.

In May I looked at what packages Bell offers to new customers customers in the article Why Do Bell and Rogers Have Customers?

The CRTC’s attitude seems to be that Bell is within their rights to do pretty much whatever they want to their own customers without seeking CRTC permission.

This was made very clear with the issue of “throttling”; the CRTC had no problem with Bell throttling their own customers; it only came up as an official CRTC matter when the Independent ISPs complained that Bell was throttling their customers.

Personally, even though I am (thankfully) no longer a Bell customer myself, I think this is wrong. If Canada is to have a regulatory body like the CRTC they should be charged with looking out for the best interests of ALL Canadians, including Bell customers. When any retailer behaves badly citizens ought to have recourse.

Old logo with text: The Bell Telephone Company of Canada - in a circle around a Bell which has the text: Local and Long Distance Telephone

Question # 2)

Where does BellAliant fall into this?

The two primary ISPs in Atlantic Canada are BellAliant (a merger? of Bell with the previous telco, Aliant, which itself was a merger of the individual provincial telcos), and EastLink (cable provider). Would BellAliant be considered a reseller, is it considered “Bell”, or does it fall outside the scope of this ruling? Knowing this would be quite helpful for rallying local politicians.

Answer # 2)

I would consider this “a Bell by any other name” [with apologies to Mr. Shakespeare]
As a consumer, I do not presume to know the ins and outs of the labyrinthine relationships of Bell companies.

Bell may wish to give the impression it is not simply one very rapacious corporation with an unacceptable amount of power and influence, but rather a group of smaller corporations. But it certainly appears to me that that Bell Aliant is part of the “Bell Family” of companies. And in Canada’s west end I have just as much trouble seeing actual differentiation between Bell and Telus, a corporate entity which certainly looks and acts like yet another incarnation of Bell.

There may be separations on paper but from where I sit Bell is one behemoth wearing two hats: that of the carrier that controls the telephone wires and a second hat as Internet Service Provider. The idea is that these are supposed to be two separate business entities, but the reality is such that even the CRTC no longer pretends to believe this.

[In actuality it is even worse than this. Much much worse. Not only does Bell also wear a “Cell Phone Provider” hat they are also well on their way to wearing a really big “Media Mogul” hat IT World Canada: Bell Canada back in the content business with CTV bid which is undoubtedly a huge part of why Canadians are not being informed about this and other equally crucial issues to our future.

a matter of language

As a writer, I understand the power of the language to slant our perceptions. This is part of why there are so many issues around the jargon of this new technology. And if having to cope with brand new terminology wasn’t bad enough, Bell makes it worse by using some terminology differently than ISPs in other parts of the world do (“throttling, for instance). This certainly helps to muddy the water.

The Internet and digital technology is still very new, and the words we use to discuss these issues can be used to clarify or confuse. Which is why one of the first things I put together for this site was a glossary. Consumers have no hope of even understanding what is being discussed if we can’t speak the language. Which is why it is so terribly important that Canada’s regulatory body does their job and looks out for consumers. And why I suggest Canadian consumers should sign the online petition at http://dissolvethecrtc.ca/

In order to discuss any of this effectively we all need to be on the same page.

Paul asked good questions, but I think it is equally important to address the question he did not ask: what are Independent ISPs?

rural telephone poles along side a gravel road

BONUS answer

It is a serious mistake to call the Independent ISPs “resellers”.

Bell’s ISP competitors should more properly be called Independent Internet Service Providers. Because the Independent ISPs provide consumers with access to the internet, the same as the Bell or Cable ISPs do. Internet Service Providers provide consumers with access to the Internet. They sell us access. The Independent ISPs are wholesale Bell Canada GAS customers.

The reason calling the Indie ISPs “Bell resellers” is a problem is that it implies Bell has a proprietary interest in the Internet. And while I expect Bell would like nothing better than total control of he Internet, Bell does not own the Internet. Bell owns part of the Internet infrastructure (cable and equipment) on Canadian soil.

Bell owns this infrastructure only because successive Canadian governments gave Bell priviledged status and protection from the beginning. I expect there were government subsidies as well as made laws allowing Bell to run wire across private and public property alike to ensure Canada could participate in the 20th Century with a nation wide telephone network.

Bell owns the telephone wires over which we make our phone calls. This does not mean Bell owns our phone calls.
By the same token, Bell does not own the Internet.

As a backbone carrier, Bell simply controls the wires.

When the Internet was initially opened up to consumers in Canada, the original Internet Service Providers provided consumers with Internet service across the same telephone cable. Nobody called them “resellers” then.

Since Bell doesn’t own the Internet, a case could be made for calling Bell a “reseller.”

This was before Bell decided to enter the market with their own newly minted ISP which put all the original ISPs out of business by offering Unlimited Internet packages… For more detail on the history of how we got here in my Canadian Market said NO to UBB article.

Except now, with CRTC approval of Usage Based Billing, Bell the carrier has been granted the power to dictate costs and pricing schedules to the Independent ISPs that directly compete with Bell the ISP.

Stop Usage Based Billing



 

If you haven’t already, sign the petition. There are only 11316 signatures.

If you have already signed, who else should you be asking to sign?

That’s easy: anyone who uses the Internet.
Because Usage Based Billing will harm not only Canadians, but our Economy.

http://dissolvethecrtc.ca/

You can also call or write your MP, MP postal code look-up

Heritage Minister James Moore – email: Moore.J@parl.gc.ca

Industry Minister Tony Clement – email: Clement1@parl.gc.ca

Prime Minister Stephen Harper – email: Harper.S@parl.gc.ca

After all, they work for us, don’t they?

STOP Usage Based Billing

STOP Usage Based Billing



 

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3 Responses to “Answering UBB Questions #1”

  1. Paul said

    Thanks for the quick reply, Laurel. One point in this discussion that concerns me is that the debate is only over how Bell’s actions affect the Independent ISPs, and not its own policies, also. I am not aware of any ISPs in my province which provide service over BellAliant’s network. I’m not sure if this is because a method has not been provided for them, or for other reasons. Since this is the case (to the best of my knowledge), there is no direct impact here: the only impact would be precedent and how this may affect the situation in the future. Essentially, usage-based billing does not directly effect us, so our local MPs will focus on other issues.

    As a second point, I also looked over Bell’s available Internet packages, and as you illustrated in Why Do Bell and Rogers Have Customers?, the usage-based charges to do start until passing a cap (2GB – 25GB, depending on the package). While I agree that forcing this on the Independent ISPs is not correct, I do not see why Bell doing this for their own customers is an issue. It may not be preferred, but it is much different than the impression I first had while reading your blog (correct or incorrect) that the usage fees would be charged on all data usage. You’ve mentioned (in How will they bill the “USAGE” in the Usage Based Billing?) how Measurement Canada does not have a method for determining usage, yet this practice is already in place with cell phone data plans. Perhaps this needs to be addressed as well, but this does demonstrate that what Bell is doing with usage-based billing (to their own customers, at least) is not completely unprecedented. You even mentioned in Why Do Bell and Rogers Have Customers? that your own ISP (TekSavvy) has a 200 GB monthly cap – certainly, this is more than the cap on Bell’s plans, but it does exist; so do they already implement usage-based billing?

    My impressions at this point:
    Usage-based billing for Bell’s customers: Let them if they choose.
    Usage-based billing for the Independent ISPs who connect to Bell’s network: should not be forced by Bell.
    Other issues (throttling, etc): Requires intervention.

    If you have information I’ve overlooked which could change this perspective, please share it.

    • Paul said

      Correction: Bell’s caps were 2GB – 75GB, depending on the package, not 25GB as I stated in the last comment.

    • [I haven’t the time to respond properly right now, Paul, I’ll try to answered properly in future posts; in the interim here’s my best quick response]

      Bell setting their own rates:

      If Bell was not a virtual monopoly in many parts of Canada it would be different. But Bell has been subsidized and supported and given preferential treatment since it’s inception (via an act of parliament no less). So long as any Canadians in Canada are limited to a choice of No Internet or Bell Internet, Bell’s price structure should certainly be subject to government scrutiny.

      Canadians can access the internet in three ways: Phone Wire, Cable, or Wireless.
      All three of these infrastructures are controlled by the phone and cable incumbents. My understanding is that there are tiny pockets of Independent wireless Internet service, mostly in areas unserviced by the mega corporations. Other than that, I believe all the Independent ISPs currently connect to the Internet via Bell GAS. If you have Indie ISPs who do not go through Bell GAS I’d be very interested to learn how they do connect.

      Measurement Canada
      The Independent ISPs contract with Bell GAS for blocks of bandwidth. From what I have heard Bell and the Independent ISPs have been arguing about extreme divergence in measurement of this bandwidth since the beginning.

      My previous look at Measurement Canada’s website indicated they provided oversight to the Canadian Natural Gas and Electricity markets, and I don’t recall finding anything there about cell phones. My query to them about UBB went unanswered, and I’ve not done any recent research or repeated it as yet.

      Still under review

      It is difficult to know exactly how usage fees will be determined or applied; the parameters have been changing over the time I’ve been writing this blog. Recently there has been talk of limits on overage fees. That’s very new, and I suspect because of what little outcry there has been about UBB. Until it actually happens nothing is graven in stone; my suspicion is the only limitation is what they think they can get away with. Because the most important thing to realize is that the usage actually costs virtually nothing.

      In response to the question of caps see: StopUBB: Number Crunching UBB Bandwidth

      [but now I really must get back to work on my novel!]

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