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New Telus overusage charges anger critics

02/20/2015 01:26 EST | Updated 04/22/2015 05:59 EDT
A change by Telus to start charging customers in B.C. and Alberta who exceed their monthly data allowance is drawing heated criticism.

Telus says it will warn customers before charging them, once the charges are phased in between March and July. Over-usage fees will start at $5 for 50 gigabytes of data.

In an online statement, Telus says the caps have always been in place but not previously enforced, and the new charges are designed to ensure heavy internet users pay for what they use.

The company blames a sharp spike in online video streaming  for a rise in data consumption by a small number of customers.

"In the last 16 months alone, our customers’ monthly internet data usage has more than doubled," said the statement

"Much of this consumption is being driven by a minority of our customers. In fact, less than five per cent of our internet customers are consuming 25 per cent of the data on our network in any given month,"

Internet concerns

But online, critics such as UBC electrical engineering student Scott MacLaren are venting their anger about the new charges.

"It's really unacceptable that they keep charging us this," he told CBC News.

MacLaren questions the new charges, claiming that Telus Optik TV works through the same fibre optic network as the internet.

"If they're saying I can watch all the TV I want through their internet network, but I can't go browsing Facebook on this, as much as I want, is that legal through net neutrality?"

Net neutrality is the idea that all web content, regardless of its form or who provides it, should be treated equally by internet providers.

But Telus spokesman Shawn Hall says the new charges do not violate the principle of net neutrality because Optik TV is a broadcast service that operates under different regulations on a different network from its internet service.

"It is an apples to oranges comparison. Net neutrality does not apply," said told CBC Radio host Gloria Mackarenko.

Experts agree that while Telus may use some of the same infrastructure to deliver both television and internet service to subscribers’ homes, the CRTC has recognized them as separate networks covered by separate regulations.

What is net neutrality?

Advocates for net neutrality say the goal is to ensure freedom of expression, enable innovation and promote competition.

They argue that consumers should be free to choose what they want to use on the internet, without service providers restricting or shaping it in any way.

Large internet and content providers, however, say they need to charge more for high-bandwidth content like video streaming or services like Skype.

They argue that under net neutrality, the companies taking up the most bandwidth with their content aren't paying their fair share to improve the internet infrastructure.

In a statement to CBC News, Telus said it is investing more than $2 billion per year in new infrastructure across Canada.

"Usage charges will allow us to continue to support the investment required to meet growing demand for Internet data, without impacting customers who are staying within their monthly data allowance," said Hall.

CTRC ruling set new precedent

In the past, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has established traffic management rules to prevent discrimination and content blocking

But the telecom regulator has not been proactive about enforcing its guidelines, leaving the onus on consumers to complain about an unfair practice.

Last month, the CRTC struck a small blow in favour of net neutrality by forbidding several major Canadian telecom firms from giving preferential treatment to their own content on their wireless networks.

For his part, MacLaren says that overall, Canadians are getting a bad deal on data rates.

"From a global perspective, we fall far behind. Other countries are offering hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of gigabytes. To only allow like maybe 150 to 200 [GBs]  before they start billing you over it — it's just abusing their position."

Clarification : An earlier version of this story did not include Telus’s position. It has now been revised to reflect that. (Feb 20, 2015 5:54 PM)

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