BCE Withdraws and Remodels Plan for Internet Usage Billing

by Jordan Richardson on March 29, 2011

BCE Inc. is backing down on its controversial proposal to charge smaller Internet service providers (ISPs) by the amount of data each of their customers download. In its place, Bell is proposing an aggregated volume price plan that will bill small ISPs for the data used by all of their customers. This eliminates the notion of charging a small ISP for each customer that goes over set limits.

Bell made the shift in game plans after considerable public outrage and political pressure.

With the new proposal, the significant price increases experienced by customers of would be off the table. Cap limits, too, would be remodelled to fall in line with the specifics of the proposition. Another interesting component of the new plan is the slashing of overage fees from the neighbourhood of $2.50 per gigabyte to around 30 cents per gigabyte.

Part of the reason for the shift in Bell’s plan has to be the recent political pressure and the fact that usage-based billing will, for many parties, be an election issue. All of the major political parties are in opposition to usage-based billing, so taking a hard line would be a difficult position to sit in for a large ISP.

“With our filing today, we are officially withdrawing our UBB proposal,” said Mirko Bibic, Bell’s head of regulatory affairs. “Let’s move on, in my view, and use the CRTC hearing as an opportunity to approve those principles and get the implementation details right.”

Of course, some aren’t convinced that Bell’s really changing anything.

“We don’t think this is an about-face. It’s the same thing, just dressed up differently,” Bill Sandiford, head of the Canadian Network Operators Consortium, said. “We don’t like it. It’s still wholesale UBB.”

Michael Geist, Ottawa University law professor, says that the move represents a “significant backtrack” from Bell. But the company, says Geist, is trying to create some distance to allow the issue time to cool off. Nothing in the current regulatory apparatus can change the way Bell charges its retail customers, although public pressure may play a role in that respect and that’s why a period of calm would be beneficial. If the UBB issue can “go away” for a while, Bell can maintain the status quo.

The Canadian situation is still dire, even with these useful concessions from some major ISPs. The problems in fundamental structure will continue business as usual for the likes of Bell, Rogers and Telus and retail consumers will continue to pay some of the highest usage fees in the world for service that is, to be kind, less than overwhelming.

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Written by: Jordan Richardson. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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