Unlimited Internet lives on–for the geeks

How indie ISPs failed to reach out to Canadians when they had the chance


Last November the CRTC killed Usage Based Billing, the pricing scheme imposed by Canada’s telecom giants on small independent Internet providers that threatened the existence of unlimited (and high limit) download plans. When the news came, the 500,000+ Canadians who had protested against UBB celebrated their victory over big business. That lasted for about a minute.

Almost instantly, indie ISP’s pooped on their own party. Sure, UBB was dead, but what was it to be replaced with? A “capacity” based pricing scheme that seems fair in principle, but which breaks down when you get to the actual numbers–tariffs set by the same big ISPs without any transparency. These rates varied wildly between providers, suggesting that the big players would still find a way to gouge the little guys out of existence, while keeping unmetered internet out of reach for Canadians. Teksavvy, one of the biggest little guys, called the CRTC’s new plan an “unfortunate step back for Canadian consumers.”

In fact, when I interviewed George Burger, TekSavvy’s formidable representative, he all but suggested that the new pricing scheme would kill OTT (Over The Top Television) altogether.  It was too soon to provide numbers, but the implication was that indie ISP customers were about to see their bills skyrocket.

That may have been an overly grim projection. Today, Teksavvy announced its new rates, adjusted to reflect the CRTC’s new pricing scheme. Most customers will pay $3 to 4 dollars a month more for unlimited plans or plans capped at 300 gigs a month (Teksavvy’s most popular plans).

It’s a sizeable bump, but nowhere close to the gouging that would have occurred under UBB. If “cord-cutting” indie ISP customers who get their TV and phone through the internet suddenly saw their rates double or triple, they may have gone running back to the big boys for landlines and cable boxes. But three or four bucks a month seems like a reasonable fee for a one-pipe solution to your every telecom need. What’s more, Teksavvy is turning their own meter off each night during off-peak hours. No matter what plan you’re on, you can download to your heart’s content while your neighbours sleep.

In other words, the unmetered Internet is alive and well in Canada for those who want it. Teksavvy’s bigger problem is that not enough Canadians seem to want it. Or, if they want it, they don’t know where to get it. All of the indie ISPs combined still only hold about five per cent of the market in Canada.

Perhaps Teksavvy (and the other small players) should have done a better job of using UBB’s defeat to make themselves known to the greater public and woo those 500,000+ protesters (and anybody else) over to their services. The media won’t likely pay the same amount of attention to small ISPs again. They could have used their victory to pitch their wares to the overwhelming majority of Canadians who are using more bandwidth than ever.

After all, unlimited access is not just for us BitTorrenting “bandwidth hogs” anymore. As mainstream services like Netflix get bigger, more and more non-geek Canadians are being hit with big overage fees. The only thing holding many of them back from switching to an unlimited plan is a lack of awareness that these plans exist. That, or a general sense that indie ISPs are only for the technologically savvy.

I wonder where they get that idea from?

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