Vancouver city is asking the federal government to ban "Internet metering" and usage-based billing, which they say will restrict the freedom of the Internet.
The position, adopted Thursday, expands on the city's initial opposition to a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruling recently that allows Bell to charge its industrial buyers of its bandwidth extra if they go over a cap.
The city is still opposing that ruling, which is in an appeal period ending next month. But Vancouver councillors unanimously expanded their opposition to include a concern that the general concept of usage-based billing, or so-called "Internet Traffic Demand Management" will eventually filter down to the average consumer and will stifle creativity and access.
"The idea of metering individual users, residents of the city, businesses in the city, even the city itself, is going to solve the problem of heavy users is a false argument," said Coun. Andrea Reimer, whose initial motion of appealing the CRTC ruling sparked the wider decision. "I think we haven't had a debate about where broadband comes from or how we access it or how much we pay for it."
In Canada only four or five companies have primary access to the bandwith that powers the internet. In addition to using it for their own retail consumers, they provide bulk bandwidth to smaller internet service providers.
But city council said the recent CRTC decision and some countries' moves to usage-based billing pose a threat to equal access to the Internet by the world at large. And they see the CRTC decision as the first move by so-called "incumbent internet service providers" who control the bandwidth to edge into metered service at a time when people are increasingly using the Internet for everyday services.
"My hope now is that this will influence the decisions of both the federal government and the CRTC in the ultimate outcome of how they go about charging for usage of broadband in our country," said Coun. Raymond Louie, the chairman of Vancouver's City Services and Budgets committee. "Given the direction we as a society are moving in terms of electronic-based information sharing it is important that we manage it in a fashion that increases access."
The city's position was applauded by Reilly Yeo, the managing director of OpenMedia.ca, an advocacy group that is trying to have the CRTC ruling reversed.
"We're hopeful it will make people more aware of what is happening in this opaque CRTC process," she said. "We've seen from past experience that the CRTC does take these kinds of gestures quite seriously, and this is helpful given that there are a lot of very powerful interests alligned against openess. We're arguing there should be no Internet metering at all. Usage-based billing is a disincentive to a creative and innovative Internet use.'
But telecom companies that provide access to bandwidth say the city is far off base.
"It is unfortunate that Vancouver city council has decided to proceed this way without understanding the issue or having taken the time to inform itself," Shawn Hall, a spokesman for Telus said in a statement. "This is debate that has been going on within the industry for many years now. There's lots of information out there they could have drawn upon to actually understand the issue. Usage based billing has been in place since the very first days of the internet. The first dial-up service was charged by the minute."
He said the city has ignored the fact it is expensive to provide the infrastructure to support the Internet.
"Accessing the internet isn't free -- the more you use, the more it costs for us to provide access. TELUS is investing $650 million in B.C. infrastructure this year alone, not much less than the city's entire $961 million operating budget. They are overlooking the part where we have to build very expensive infrastructure to allow access to the internet."