Whatever happened with UBB? - Macleans.ca

Whatever happened with UBB?

Everything is fine, right? Sort of.


Remember the uproar over usage-based billing? Sure you do, it was the single biggest consumer rights issue to hit the Canadian Internet. Heck, if we measure these things by the number of people who signed on—almost half a million—it was the single biggest issue of any kind on the Canadian Internet ever.

So whatever happened to it? Consumers won, right? Well, sort of.

Yes, Stephen Harper stepped in to tweet his demand that the CRTC “review” their decision to support of the practice, and yes, then-industry minister Tony Clement did talk tough, vowing to overturn the CRTC if they didn’t reverse themselves. One ISP, Shaw, later decided to just go ahead and give customers what they wanted without being forced to. They upped their bandwidth caps to levels *closer* to what Americans enjoy (though in most cases, far from unlimited).

And that has been it… so far.

The whole episode presented more questions than it answered.  Why were so many Canadians upset about a decision that only affected a small minority of people who use indie ISPs like TekSavvy and Acanac? Were they simply confused, thinking that usage-based billing referred to the big players’ practice of charging hefty fees by the gig once users exceed their caps (which they still do)?

I looked into it, spoke to many involved, and found that this was partially true. Some signed the Stop the Meter petition in error, thinking that UBB was all about their accounts with Rogers, Bell, et al. But once they learned the details, they still cared, and still kept their names on the petition. UBB became a beachhead, the frontier battleground in the war between Canadians and Canadian telecom. If choice in the marketplace was being eliminated, if new services like Netflix were being squeezed, and if the general trend was towards higher bills for less access, then Canadians were prepared to start with this issue and move forward.

So what’s next?

There have been rumblings about allowing for foreign investment in order to create more competition. There have been complaints, perhaps unsatisfied, that the big players are not playing by the CRTC’s Net Neutrality rules. And there is a lingering question about which direction the OpenMedia lobby group behind Stop The Meter plans to steer the massive ad hoc group they’ve assembled.

Those are some of the questions I’m going to ask OpenMedia.ca founder Steve Anderson today, during our live interview as part of NXNE Interactive. If you’re in Toronto, come join us! We’ll be chatting at the Hyatt Regency, at 370 King Street West at 4:50pm. Either way, if you’ve got a question to add to those provided above, pose it in the comments and I’ll pose it to Steve.


Whatever happened with UBB?

  1. I’m a Rogers internet customer. I signed on not because I thought this decision in and of itself affected me, but because I saw it as another sign of the ongoing squeeze to charge more for less.

    About a year and a half ago, Rogers informed me that, as a result of their unilateral contract changes, we had gone from using 10% of our bandwidth to being over the limit. Overnight. With a $2 a month increase for the honour of being reduced to 1/10th my old bandwidth.

    After listening to my rant, they gave me a one-year discount (now expired) that gave me a one-level upgrade at the same price as my old level. I like the higher speed, and have not gone over my new (still lower than previous by a sizable margin) limit – but I am still not happy with them for that underhanded ploy to jack my rates. I’d have dropped them except the other major carriers had done the same – so a switch would not have saved me money.

    Companies will continue to squeeze us if we let them. So my signing was / is a continuing protest over past treatment and a warning about the possible consequences of continued abuse of consumers.

  2. In the Yukon, the NWT and Nunavut  our only “choice” of ISP is Northwestel… you know… the one that charges $12 per GB for going over their cap…. well… they’ve not changed their caps or rates…

  3. Shaw customer for 15 years. Astonished that they’re getting a “pass” having changed their metering system so the same amount of usage showed higher numbers (Dec), then lowered their caps (Jan), called customer meetings (Mar), deliberated for a month(Apr), then introduced new higher-priced packages with fat bundles including TV no one watches (May). They just came up with a new name from UBB and put it in place. Meanwhile they cut no deals with TekSavvy or anyone else to piggyback on their admittedly reliable system, so 1.6 million customers get no choice. Retired CEO draws $16 million a year. Customers pay more. All blame placed on the “the regulator.’

  4. Foreign Investment should be allowed regarding the Canadian telecom sector.  This would encourage more competition and help bring down high prices. As it is right now customers are being taken advantage of by the big telecom companies due to a dearth of competition and a lack of available alternatives.

  5. Maybe ONE day, Canada will get out of the 3rd world. I would like to see plans like these (in Romania) – http://www.romtelecom.ro/personal/internet/clicknet-power/ – 10Euros/month for 100down/6up Mbit. Fibre EVERYWHERE, even in small towns.. Maybe ONE day, we will look outside our bubble and realize that Canada is decades behind Internet infrastructure and there our top level ISP are run like lemonade stands..

    Hello compared to most 1st World nations, we are running unreliable dialup and premium prices.

    I FULLY agree that outside companies need to come in and crush our local companies in order to slap them awake. “Buying Canadian” is just a way to get ripped off with bad quality and high prices. Canadian pride works 2 ways.. no point in having pride in our local good for nothing companies, that’s just delusional.

  6. Why the fuss over UBB?  We are billed for lots of things based on usage. People who use more should pay more. 

    If I use my garden hose to fill a swimming pool, and my neighbor uses his to fill a bucket, why should we both pay the same water bill that month? 

    The internet has long fostered the idea that everything should be free – music and video downloads, and now connectivity itself.

    The internet is supposed to be about empowerment, not entitlement.

    • The fuss is the misconception that the Internet is a finite resource.  Bandwidth (the measure of how much information is transferred over a period of time) is not the same as water flowing though a garden hose.  It sounds very similar but it’s not for several reasons.

      Here’s a great article that takes the common comparison to water and explains how it isn’t the same:


      To summarize the article though, unlike water which is a finite resource, you can’t “use up” the Internet, it is an unlimited resource.

      With the pool to bucket comparison, if we further expand on that comparison, if water is to the Internet content, then the water company would have to be the same as the ISP.  The only problem is the Water Company has to pay for the purified water (by actually purifiying tainted water).  The ISP on the other hand doesn’t pay anything for the Internet content.  All the content is paid for by advertisers.  So if I fill a pool full of content or a bucket full of content, it still costs the ISP the same amount, nothing.  Why should we be expected to pay them for something they get for free?  Would you pay the Water Company for the amount of water you consumed if the water was free?  No you would simply pay for the hook up and maintenance of that connection, which is what our monthly Internet bill is for.