Usage-based billing, still a threat

By Justin Azevedo

As one of the quintessential examples of human innovation, the internet has had dramatic impacts on how our species has interacted, survived and engaged in commerce.

As a tool for communication, a resource for contributing to open research and learning, and as a vehicle for entertainment, the internet is far and away the leader in all three categories. It’s so easy for us to take it for granted — we assume we’ll have access to open and free internet access anywhere we go nowadays.

But what if I was to tell you your federal government has been working to take certain rights away from you when you log on?

As the House of Commons enters its 41st session, there are a number of bills that have been reworked and will impact how you can use the internet — most notably bill C-11, which is a re-branding and re-tabling of the notorious bill C-32 that was introduced in the third session of the 40th parliament. While there are numerous changes the bill proposes, the most egregious of them is limiting our privacy on the web.

Under the guise of “security,” Bill c-11 includes language that allows copyright owners to seek statutory damages. Now, you may wonder how copyright owners would gain access to information that could lead to damage charges — the answer is found in C-11. C-11, along with former bills C-50, C-51 and C-52 attempt to allow police officers and other law enforcement agencies to monitor anyone’s online habits without a search warrant or probable cause.

If you’ve read the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the point on Legal Rights, Section 8 clearly states we are free from unreasonable search. Now, do tell me how unwarranted search does not completely contradict this section?

This is where this saga gets more important than just the internet. We’re now talking about a violation of Canada’s Constitution — the highest level of the law in the country.

It’s up to us, the citizens, to keep our most precious resource alive — the free, unmonitored exchange of information and ideas. The good news is we’re making progress.

During the most recent federal election campaign, you may have heard of a concept called “Usage-Based Billing.” Essentially, you pay for whatever bandwidth (both upstream and downstream) you use. Most people would’ve shrugged it off — it is true most customers wouldn’t have been directly affected by ubb — but under one plan from Rogers, $60 a month would’ve got you 60gb of bandwidth — that’s among the world’s costliest bandwidth. For the most part, we were able to stop ubb before the election due to a massive online campaign on sites like Reddit, 4chan and Something Awful.

But it didn’t fix the basic problem with our internet providers (and the telecommunications industry in general). A systemic lack of competition, which has been allowed to fester by an inept government agency. We’re not just talking about the internet here — it’s in all facets of telecommunications. This environment has lead to various antitrust violations ensuring that pricing structures are similar throughout the bandwidth providers, which leads to telecommunications companies lobbying the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to make it nigh impossible for resellers to have competitive plans, which harms the consumer.

As it is, Canada has some of the most expensive bandwidth in the world. This, combined with attempts at violating our privacy, is absurd. Even worse are those statutory damages I talked about earlier: language in the official Ministerial q&a states “Statutory damages are a tool provided to rights holders to take legal action without the need for proving the amount of actual damages suffered, as this can sometimes be difficult to prove.” Mark my words, this is an open-ended statement that will lead to abuse of the law by copyright holders much like what has been done in the United States.

I’d urge you to read the bills and the Ministerial q&a then contact your local mp and tell them why this bill is prohibitive to continuing to have open internet in Canada. Otherwise, visit and sign the petition to stop C-11.

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