The controversy over usage based billing has unsurprisingly spilled over into the election campaign with the national parties starting to provide some insight into their positions. All the parties were on record as opposing the CRTC’s decision on wholesale UBB before the election (and Industry Minister Tony Clement said he was unimpressed with Bell’s AVP proposal
). The bigger question is what are they prepared to do about the issue. The Conservatives have not said much on the issue of late, but the NDP and Liberals have adopted some noteworthy positions.
The NDP was the only party to address retail UBB directly within its platform. The party has promised to ban the practice at the both the wholesale and retail level – “We will prohibit all forms of usage-based billing (UBB) by Internet Service Providers (ISPs)“.
The Liberals revealed their support for “functional separation” in an online chat on Canada’s digital future yesterday (I participated as a commentator). Open Media’s Steve Anderson had the following exchange with Liberal Marc Garneau: Anderson: In Canada, we have a few companies that dominate both the business of providing access to the customer via the last mile of the Internet (wholesale), as well as the business of providing access to the wires that connect the customers to the backbone of the Internet (retail). It is this domination of both wholesale and retail markets that experts say is at least partially responsible for the high costs of Internet access in Canada, as well as the lack of choice and competition in the market. The UK and other countries have dealt with this situation by separating the two businesses in what is called â€œfunctional separation.â€ This appears to have lowed prices and created more choice and competition. What is the Liberals position on functional separation? Would a Liberal government adopt this approach? Garneau: Steve, we are supportive of that concept. The UK is doing interesting stuff and we need to look at that carefully. Anderson: Is that a yes? Garneau: Yes.
The support for functional separation is a big step as it would separate the retail and wholesale businesses of the incumbent telecom providers. The UK approach is viewed as a success, having increased competition and reduced consumer Internet bills.