Until yesterday, Bell Canada’s message to the 470,000 Canadians who stand in opposition to Usage Based Billing could be summarized as follows: You are confused. Go home.
In interview after interview, Bell spokesman Mirko Bibic sought to educate the angry horde—they simply didn’t understand that the CRTC’s pro-UBB decision would only impact the small minority of users who subscribe to independent Internet providers. If you were with any of the big telcos, this wasn’t your fight. He was technically right: mainstream subscribers are already being billed outrageously for bandwidth “overages” and the CRTC isn’t even thinking of stepping in.
Somehow, this message failed to resonate.
Yesterday, Bibic took another tack. “Wholesale UBB is now gone,” he announced. “It will not be implemented.” The indie ISPs will still be able to offer unlimited service, and the rest of us can declare victory and go back to paying up to $5 a gig from providers like Bell.
Bibic still doesn’t get it. The half million Canadians who signed the Stop the Meter petition didn’t do so because they were ignorant of the distinctions between wholesale and retail or because they are strangely concerned with the pricing models of a bunch of tiny ISPs who collectively comprise 6% of the market. They signed the petition because they are not stupid. They see that Canada’s big ISPs are attempting to cap the amount of data transferred by all Canadians, regardless of which ISP they are with, and that is what they oppose.
Netflix gets it. Yesterday they announced that they would deal with mainstream ISP UBB by allowing customers to drastically compress the quality of the video they watch. Yes, that’s innovation in Canada: new players can indeed compete, by grossly degrading their product to a level beneath anything they’d dare offer to Americans. True, it may be a publicity stunt on Netflix’s part, a calculated move to embarrass Canada into getting with the times. If so, it’s a brilliant one.
But will it be effective? Only if the half million angry Canadians stay that way and make UBB an election issue.