interweb freedom

(formerly Stop Usage Based Billing)

Posts Tagged ‘The I.T.Crowd’

Why Stop Usage Based Billing?

Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on September 17, 2009

No Usage Based Billing

No Usage Based Billing

The first time I heard about Usage Based Billing was in mid-August, just after the CRTC’s ill advised ruling. I’m referring of course to Telecom Order CRTC 2009-484 the one that gave Bell Canada provisional permission to implement Usage Based Billing in 90 days. I didn’t understand the issue at all. I didn’t even understand what most of the words meant. I’m certainly not particularly “knowledgeable” about this kind of technical issue.

Dammit Jim, I’m a writer not a technician!

One thing I have learned is how to do research, so I made it my business to inform myself about Usage Based Billing. I didn’t think it could really be as bad as it sounded. After all, to paraphrase one of my favorite Lazarus Long quotes, I’m an optimist by nature but a pessimist by design. Surely Usage Based Billing only appeared to be so bad because the jargon had me so confused. Surely the CRTC could not have possibly given permission to Bell Canada to charge bill people who are not even their customers Usage Based Billing. The very idea was mind boggling.

Initially it was just going to be one little in the wind blog post.   But the more I found out about Usage Based Billing the worse it was. And there are related issues like Net Neutrality that I’m still learning about. Although I’d only been blogging for a few months, I understood enough to know that I didn’t want the Usage Based Billing issue to take over in the wind so I decided to start a public service blog to pass the Usage Based Billing information I was discovering on to other ordinary Canadians.

Something that I’ve said before that bears repeating: I am still learning about this. If I get something wrong, please let me know.

One thing I >do< know is that Usage Based Billing is a very bad thing. This is an issue that will affect all Canadians, not just the people who understand the technical bits.

I think that both Bell Canada and the CRTC assumed that that “nobody” would notice until it was a done deal. After all, the only people who can even understand the UBB jargon are computer people.

Over six thousand people told the CRTC that the Usage Based Billing proposal was a bad idea. And since the issue has been virtually invisible from the start, I assume that those six thousand complaints the CRTC so cavalierly ignored ignored were most probably from technical computer people. Because nobody else knew. But the CRTC went ahead and did it anyway. After all, what’s six thousand complaints in a country of 33,487,208 (estimated July 2009)?

Channel 4's The I.T.Crowd cast

Channel 4's The I.T.Crowd cast

In the same way we don’t have to understand the mechanics of an internal combustion engine to be able to drive a car, most computer users only have a vague understanding of how computers or the internet actually work. This is brought home amazingly well in this YouTube clip from the British televison series The I.T.Crowd when Moss shows Jen “This is the internet”,

The fact is, most us us don’t need to know how the internet works, we just need to be able to access it. We’re getting to the point where most of the population uses computers, most of which are connected to the internet. Usage Based Billing will affect all of those Canadian computer users. But since most Canadians haven’t even heard of UBB they can’t join in the protest. And like me a little over a month ago, even if they have heard of Usage Based Billing they probably don’t understand what it is about yet. This Stop Usage Based Billing blog exists to inform ordinary people about a very important issue. I’m particularly proud of Usage Based Billing: A Glossary.

One of the reasons I keep checking the is to see how many signatures the petition has garnered.
It’s an excellent indication that more and more Canadians are finding out about UBB all the time. I expect that a lot of the people who complained directly to the CRTC haven’t signed the petition. Having been totally ignored makes it easy to think that there is nothing we can do.

I don’t believe that. It ain’t over ’til it’s over. And maybe I’m naïve, but I have this idea that if enough Canadians know about Usage Based Billing it may still be stopped.

After all, the ruling was only “provisional”

But as long as the government and the CRTC only perceive the Usage Based Billing issue as being a problem for a special interest group that only numbers around six thousand, as long as the rest of the people who will be affected don’t know about it, Usage Based Billing can be implemented quietly. Once implemented it is unlikely to ever go away. And it may not seem like such a bad thing… after all, it will really only be doubling moderate users internet costs.

Of course that’s only short term. If Usage Based Billing goes ahead the Independent Service providers will cease to be able to offer any effective alternative to the Big three. They will be lucky to survive. Canada will no longer have anything resembling competition in internet service. We’ll be back to an internet monopoly. If the CRTC is allowing Bell Canada to double internet costs without even pretending to provide any extra value to customers now this won’t be the last time. It will happen again.

Could Canadian Wikipedia Use really be affected by Usage Based Billing?

One reader questioned the validity of my comments about Canadian wikipedia participation.

After “spread the word” and “sign the petition” probably the thing I have been saying the most often is a variation of this:

“If the Usage Based Billing ruling is allowed to stand, it will harm Canada’s economy because it will change how Canadians use the internet. The insidious thing about Usage Based Billing is that the only way it will allow Canadians to keep our internet rates within our budgets will be for us to curtail our internet use.”

— From Dear Mr Harper

In listing the things we would do differently I always include a mention that Canadians will be less likely to contribute to Wikipedia.

I was regularly using Wikipedia long before I had any idea what a wiki was, so I know and value it as a resource. Reduced Canadian participation would be a tragedy. Surely UBB wouldn’t cause that.

After all I’ve heard it said that editing a wiki page requires “virtually” no data transfers

Virtually does not mean none.

There are many different ways people can contribute to Wikipedia.

The most common way is to edit errors in the articles you read. Editing a sentence here and there, say as many as one a day, isn’t going to do much to your bandwidth usage. Of course, you have to actually take the time to read articles before you know if and what you’re going to edit. A little more bandwidth used, but still not very much. Then of course you might be communicating with other people through wikipedia. Discussing Wikipedia stuff. A little more bandwidth. Still not very much.

Another way that people contribute to the sum of Wikipedia knowledge is by contributing an article. Usually someone will notice a lack and in most cases will contribute a “stub”, or a minimal “starter” article. In time people who know about the subject will fill in the necessary information. Another tiny bit of bandwidth.



It didn’t even occur to me to do an article piecemeal. So my first contribution was an entire biographical article (about a Canadian). First I had to learn how everything worked. That used bandwidth. Then I wrote the article online in wikipedia. Even though I’ve been been learning XHTML Wikipedia isn’t exactly the same, it has its own code conventions. (As does WordPress.) So when using Wikipedia or WordPress I do it by by working online, so I can see what parts of the layout work and what doesn’t. So that will consume more bandwidth as well.

Because Wikipedia wants links for everything, while working on the article I’d be checking information about the subject in different tabs. Or looking up internal links. More bandwidth.

The 3264 x 2448 pixel photograph I uploaded to Wikipedia Commons for my article was 3.53 megabytes. Images use a lot more bandwidth than text.

I’m pretty sure that there are a lots of other ways of participating in Wikipedia. Some people run programs to find errors of various types. There seem to be people who function as greeters. There are people who answer questions. There are people who assemble lists of things, like this List of Canadian musicians There may even be forums. I really don’t know how much bandwidth any of these voluntary jobs would consume. Some, but probably not very much.

So, how much bandwidth does making a wikipedia contribution use? When you start adding up all the tiny bits, it will add up.

But I really have no idea how much it will use. Which is the point.

So far I have not heard how this Usage in Usage Based Billing will be calculated.

What I want to know is how will we know how much bandwidth we’re using?

Are we each going to have our computers fitted with little meters that tell us how much internet bandwidth we have used and how much is left?
If not we won’t have a clue.

I don’t know about anyone else but I’d also want to know how much bandwidth it would take for each thing I do online. How much bandwidth will the flash banner ad I’m ignoring on that website I went to by accident cost me? Or how much bandwidth will that stack of spam ding me for? If we knew in advance what everything would cost in terms of bandwidth, Canadians would be watching our bandwidth usage. Like a dieter counting calories, we would be careful about what we used. But I rather think we won’t know. And without knowing the easiest solution is to use as little as possible.

Maybe my Wikipedia use costs almost nothing in terms of bandwidth. How much is almost nothing? People working out estimates of how much what bandwidth will cost and it looks remarkably like a a mathematician working out an algorithm. Rather beyond me. So how will I know? If cost is an issue, and I’m getting close to my cap, I’m certainly going to be super careful not to exceed my precious bandwidth limit.

Wikipedia exists because of a great deal of work by volunteers. It’s satisfying to participate, and it’s always fun to boost your country or share information. You get to do something good for the world. Not many people are likely to contribute to Wikipedia if it causes economic hardship. Just learning how to use Wikipedia or a blog is time consuming. But now it will be Bandwidth consuming too.

The first time we met Cody.

Jamcam: Cody on the Deck...this is the Original Size 18.5KB

Maybe the bandwidth Canadians need to contribute to or access Wikipedia is next to nothing. That’s not the same as nothing. If I don’t understand it, especially if I’m close to the cap, I’m certainly not about to risk it.

Adventures in Computer Technology

When floppy disks were floppy

When floppy disks were floppy

When I first began writing on a computer, I spent a few days doing DOS tutorials before I was able to realize that I didn’t need to know most of that, and what I really needed to learn was WordPerfect which I used in combination with a program called SmartKey to format scripts. It worked a treat.

This is the part that some of you will have trouble swallowing: the computer I was using had a double floppy drive and… wait for it: no hard drive. Can you imagine? And the floppies? Well, they weren’t 3½” disks, these were the 5¼” disks that were actually floppy.

These floppy disks held a whopping 360 kilobytes to a disk. My boot disk had a very early version of DOS (version1.11 or something) on it as well as WordPerfect and SmartKey. The second floppy disk was the one where I put my documents.

The first digital camera I saw was my sister’s jamcam, which took 18.5 kilobyte pictures like the photo of Cody on the Deck. 18.5 kilobytes. Not very big. Almost no bandwidth.

Cody in a Field original size 141KB

Cody in a Field original size 141KB

Several years ago I bought a $50 computer and added the biggest hard drive I could afford (60 gigabyte) so I could scan and store my family photographs. There was one problem: it was impossible to make back ups, because none of my digital photographs were small enough to fit on a 3½” disk… after all they only held 1.4 Megabytes per disk.

By that time I had a digital camera of my own which took photographs in the 1918KB range. That was the original size of the Cody at the beach photo. Funny how fast 60 gigabytes can go.

Everything gets bigger.

Nowadays, the photographs I take are larger still. The original size of the Cody at Soccer picture was 4241 kilobytes. That’s quite a substantial increase from the jamcam’s 18.5 kilobyte image. At a soccer game or a family gathering I’ll typically use up my 8 gigabyte flash card.

Nowadays my computer capacity is larger still, with something like three terrabytes. Of course its mostly photographs and home movies. Images take up a lot of room.

People access the internet for all kinds of reasons. Most people do more than one thing online. Because everything is bigger the amount of bandwidth we use will be bigger too. It’s not just going to be one thing that we change, everything we do is connected.

Cody at the Beach original size 1918KB

Cody at the Beach original size 1918KB

If you followed the link above to the YouTube I.T. Crowd clip, it is entirely possible that you didn’t just watch that one clip. If it was your first exposure to The I.T.Crowd I wouldn’t be surprised if you found youself watching a lot more clips.

How many clips would you have to watch before you reach your Usage Based Billing cap? I don’t know. And you don’t either. Clips come in different sizes.  And how will this all affect families? Maybe you have three or four people, perhaps a teenager or two all sharing a single connection. Those limits are going to be used up in a heartbeat.

And what about throttling?

Since Bell Canada is throttling our internet service, they are artificially inflating how much bandwidth we actually use. So when they bill is us for Usage, we will now have to pay for what we use, as well as what Bell Canada deliberately spoils.

The only people who understand this issue and still support it are those who expect to profit by it.

But what they don’t seem to realize is that implementation of Usage Based Billing will not be the cash cow Bell Canada expects. We may be emerging from the recession but most Canadians don’t have money to waste. Inevitably a lot of Canadians will limit our internet use so that we can stay
within our budgets.

Ways to fight Usage Based Billing:

Cody at Soccer Original size 4241KB

Cody at Soccer Original size 4241KB

  • I’m switching my landline from Bell Canada to Teksavvy to will help manage Bell Canada’s unreasonable price increase.
  • Tell your MP how you feel about having the CRTC dramatically increase your internet rates.
  • Write letters to the editor, or make online comments wherever appropriate.
  • Tell everyone you know about this.

The petition’s up to 7863 signatures!
Don’t forget to sign the online petition at
If you’ve already signed it, please encourage others to as well.

[P.S. note: It has been impressed on me that once published online no changes should be made without noting them.

When I finally completed this monster post, I was somewhat tired, and there were a few editing artifacts that were just to irritating. So I’ve followed blog convention, so when you see underlined words they are post publishing inserts; where there are struck out words they are words I would have deleted had I been awake when I pressed “publish”… oh yes, this note is ALSO part of the second edition, but since it’s obviously a p.s. I’ve chosen to not underline this note.]

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