Like many concerned and outraged Canadians, I’ve been watching the Usage-Based Billing (UBB) development with great interest. I signed the OpenMedia.ca petition. I shared stories with our uninformed friends and colleagues. I felt embarrassed, and yes, furious, that the CRTC would move in such an incredibly backward direction with regard to online access.
Today I feel a bit less aggravated as I learned that Ottawa would reverse the controversial CRTC billing decision, but I consider myself warned.
UBB would have a number of negative implications for Canadians. Many have spoken of its potential to kill innovation. To stymie web-based collaboration and the development and sharing of content. To create a dangerously tiered structure of access, with the wealthiest having the greatest access. UBB would limit access in the sectors where we are at a critical crossroads and need innovation, such as health care and education, at the expense of the profit and content monopolies that our telecoms so desperately want to preserve. It ain’t right.
Yesterday’s hectoring, school-marmy National Post editorial in support of UBB reeked of telecom lobbyism and ignorance.
How can we push and advocate for free, open, and transparent use of the internet, when cost issues (as opposed to old thinking and ideologies) are the prohibitive factor? Yeah, unlimited web access is great, if you can afford it.
And then a beloved and trusted South African Twitter contact chimed in on my frustrations. You see, UBB is the state of the internet in South Africa. She connected me with Alistair Fairweather, who is the Digital Platforms Manager for South Africa’s Mail and Guardian online. He also writes for Memeburn and News24. I was curious to explore the implications and outcomes of UBB in a place where it is part of the system, and Alistair was gracious enough to answer my questions:
How much does the average South African pay for unlimited monthly internet? Is this affordable?
Does this constrain the average web user from accessing the media they are interested in?
Does UBB prevent certain types of media (video etc) from being produced and accessed?
Any implications for education? Online learning?
How do South Africans feel about it? Have they tried to change it?
Is there a telecom monopoly?
I’d like to thank Alistair Fairweather for taking the time to share his insights on this issue.
Canadians – be warned. Let’s hope the decision sticks.