In North America, whichever company is providing your Internet service, there’s a good chance you’re getting ripped off.
First of all, data caps are the biggest lie we’ve ever been told. The fight against “bandwidth hogs” — people who download more than their fair share of data — is the reason for these caps. According to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) caps mean that average people, those folks who use the Internet for email and the occasional low-resolution YouTube video, will never pay extra while the hogs will pay for all the high-resolution video downloading they’re doing. The way they frame the argument, “hog” is a veiled reference to “pirate”.
There are holes in that argument. “But” holes. But: Netflix. But: today’s 1080p HD video content on YouTube. But: lots of new and innovative services that can’t run without a modern pipeline of data to go with them.
The good news is that most of the big ISPs have introduced “unlimited” services. I always laugh at the definition of unlimited: it means that they set their systems to accept a limit so high that no one should ever run into it. This works in most cases. For example, with the Rogers plan I have now, it would be impossible to hit the cap with today’s technology. Still, we’ve heard the stories of “unlimited texting” plans that are exceeded by avid teenaged texters.
Even with the unlimited plans, we’re still facing a situation where our communications infrastructure is falling behind in terms of worldwide comparisons on price, availability, and speed — true in both the United States and Canada.
Google may change all that with the introduction of 1 Gigabit service in many under-served communities in the United States. But Google is carefully evaluating each market and will only enter those where it knows it can make a huge profit. They have no plans to enter Canada at all.
There are a couple of suggestions that seem to make sense. These suggestions would outrage the big telecommunications companies, based on their last reaction to being told late last year by the CRTC that yet another merger was not in the public’s best interest.
- Do not allow the service providers to also provide content and distribution channels on top of their base service. Laying cable and fibre then opening up the pipe, like a true utility company, should be the only thing an Internet Service Provider does. When the same company has profit motivation related to data they are running along those pipes, the temptation to filter or otherwise hinder their competitors is too great.
- Introduce true competition in the space. We already have a duplication of wires running through most neighbourhoods, but as we lay down more fibre we have an opportunity to allow different companies to fight for the ability to serve on those existing wires or lay down additional ones.