Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
First of all, I have copies of my opening statement, but my communications person is downstairs in the security line-up. You will have them very shortly. I apologize for that.
As you know, we are in the middle of a hearing of Bell's takeover of CTV. We had to scramble to put this hearing in and get the documents done, so it's a last-minute job. I apologize that it's not here.
I recognize that the members of this committee, as well as Canadians, are concerned about our decisions regarding usage-based billing for Internet services. I am pleased to have this opportunity to clarify the CRTC's position in a very public debate over Internet services and to clear up a few misconceptions.
The Internet is a driver of innovation and the backbone of a modern economy. It is vital that Canadians have access to it, and most of them can choose between different Internet service providers. The market is dominated by what many have called a duopoly: large telephone companies such as Bell Canada and Telus on the one hand, and cable companies such as Rogers, Shaw and Videotron on the other. These large distributors have built extensive networks and continue to invest in them.
For example, during the recession of 2008 and 2009, Bell and Telus invested $8.7 billion to extend and upgrade their wireline network.
There are also a number of small Internet service providers, ISPs, that serve approximately 6% of the market. That represents 550,000 subscribers, of which 76% are residential customers. That's 550,000 subscribers out of a total of 9,000,000 subscribers in Canada. Despite offering innovative service and real competition, these small ISPs mostly rely on large distributors' networks to reach their residential customers.
The Internet market has evolved primarily through the efforts of a competitive and dynamic industry. This has been achieved by relying, as much as possible, on market forces. The commission only intervenes if there is clear evidence of market failure.
Let me emphasize that we do not regulate the price of Internet service, whether it's offered to residential or business customers. We also do not set download limits, which are commonly referred to as caps. However, we have established rules to ensure that small ISPs are not squeezed out of the market.
Therefore, large distributors must, one, provide wholesale Internet access to small ISPs at a cost plus a prescribed mark-up, effectively allowing those small ISPs to price their offerings competitively; and two, provide this access at the same speed as that offered through large distributors to residential customers.
Without these two rules, the large distributors could limit the wholesale service to the slowest speeds or make them unattractive to small ISPs in other ways. The commission stepped in to make certain they could present comparable and even different features to consumers.
Earlier this week, Mr. George Burger, a representative of a small ISP, TekSavvy Solutions Inc., appeared on CBC News and stated:
||If you did away with all the CRTC regulations, then frankly, you would be left with the duopoly [ ... ] of the cable companies and the telecom [companies].
In recent years, convergence has become a reality and the way Canadians use the Internet has changed tremendously. More bandwidth is being eaten up by consumers who are accessing information, downloading or streaming music and video content, or playing online games. This demand causes congestion on networks, which can push the available bandwidth to its limit.
The commission looked at the situation, and in 2009, developed a comprehensive regulatory approach for Internet traffic management. Let me remind you briefly of its key elements.
First, when congestion occurs, an ISP response should always be to invest in more network capacity. In a competitive marketplace where consumers have choice, it is in the ISP's best interests to have a robust network.
Two, realizing that network upgrades are not always the most practical solution, we indicated that if it is necessary to manage Internet traffic, it should be done through transparent economic means.
Three, traffic shaping and other technical means should only be employed as a measure of last resort, in which case customers should be made aware of them ahead of time.
Now you should know that nearly all large distributors have introduced usage-based billing for their residential customers--Bell, for example, adopted this billing practice in 2006. And I would like to point out that usage-based billing applies only to residential customers; it does not apply to business customers. As a result, large users, such as those who watch a lot of high-definition movies and television shows online, pay higher rates than those who simply send e-mails or visit social networking websites. Customers who exceed monthly limits are usually subject to an extra charge, though many providers allow users to buy additional capacity for a small fee.
All lSPs advertise their rates, bandwidth caps, and the additional usage charges that apply. Consumers can shop around for a plan that best meets their needs. Internet services are now sold like other public utilities, such as water, gas, and electricity.
As we reported in our most recent Communications Monitoring Report, Canadians used on average 15.5 gigabits per month in 2009. Most users fall within the caps currently set by large distributors, and they would not be charged unless their monthly usage increased dramatically. I'm sure most of you are customers of large distributors and therefore subject to such caps.
It's also worth noting that a very small percentage of consumers are heavy Internet users. According to information provided by Bell Canada, less than 14% of users are responsible for more than 83% of Internet traffic. Let me repeat those numbers because they are key. According to information provided by Bell Canada, less than 14% of users are responsible for more than 83% of Internet traffic.
Let me now address our usage-based billing decisions. I would ask that you keep in mind that this billing practice applies only to residential customers and not to businesses. In March 2009, Bell Aliant and Bell Canada asked permission to impose usage-based billing on their wholesale customers--the small ISPs. Bell wanted to create economic incentives for users to stay within their bandwidth caps and ensure that those who use more bandwidth pay their appropriate share.
I see that the statement has finally arrived, so for your information I'm on page 6.
Following a lengthy process that resulted in a series of decisions, the commission decided as follows. We granted large distributors permission to adopt usage-based billing for their wholesale customers. We imposed as a condition that before they could move their wholesale customers to usage-based billing, large distributors would have to adopt the same billing practice for most of their own residential customers, with the exception of certain grandfathered subscribers. And lastly, the commission examined the rates that large distributors charge their own residential customers when they exceed bandwidth caps and determined that they can only impose 85% of that rate onto their wholesale customers.
In short, our decisions were based on two fundamental principles: ordinary Internet users should not be made to pay for the bandwidth consumed by heavy users, and smaller ISPs offer competitive alternatives to the large distributors and it's in the best interests of consumers that they continue to do so.
I would like to repeat these principles in French.
In short, our decisions were based on two fundamental principles. First of all, ordinary Internet users should not be made to pay for the bandwidth consumed by heavy users. Secondly, small ISPs offer competitive alternatives to the large distributors, and it is in the best interest of consumers that they continue to do so.
As you know, our decisions were set to take effect on March 1, 2011. We have since received from Bell Canada a request that we delay the implementation date by 60 days. A party from our last proceeding, Vaxination Informatique, has also filed a request for a delay.
In light of these requests and the evident concerns expressed by Canadians, the commission decided yesterday to, one, delay the implementation of usage-based billing for wholesale customers by at least 60 days, and two, to launch, on our own motion, a review of our decision to verify that: (a) it protects consumers; (b) those who use the Internet heavily pay for their excess use; and (c) small ISPs retain maximum flexibility and continue to be a key source of innovation in the industry.
I would like to reiterate the commission's view that usage-based billing is a legitimate principle for pricing Internet services. We are convinced that Internet services are no different from other public utilities, and the vast majority of Internet users should not be asked to subsidize a small minority of heavy users. For us, it's a question of fundamental fairness. Let me restate: ordinary users should not be forced to subsidize heavy users.
We are convinced that Internet services are no different than any other public utilities, and the vast majority of Internet users should not be asked to subsidize a small minority of heavy users.
For us, it is a question of fundamental fairness. Let me restate: ordinary users should not be forced to subsidize heavy users. In addition, we want to be absolutely certain that the modalities we have established are the most flexible under the circumstances and do not hinder innovation or harm small ISPs.
A document outlining the terms of the review will be posted on our website this coming Monday.
We would now be pleased to answer your questions.
First of all, I did not agree with the government. We did it on our own. It was absolutely clear; it was our decision to do this.
Second, I cannot tell you what the outcome of the review is, but as I've said many times, I believe the ISPs are vital to having a competitive market. I quoted you one of the leading ISPs actually saying the same thing, that if it wasn't for our rules, they wouldn't exist anymore. We forced the large companies to sell to them at the same speed as they sell themselves. We insisted it be sold at cost-plus so that there was enough of a margin to obtain business. They are the drivers of innovation. That is absolutely clear.
It has happened that a lot of the very heavy users have become clients of those small ISPs who don't have a limit. What we are saying is most of the caps that will be imposed for people are for those who are really excessive users. If you are someone who uses far more than the ordinary Canadian, then you have to pay for it. This is the same thing as if you heat your house warmer than I do. There is an average rate that people pay, and if you really are an excessive user, or a heavy user—I won't say excessive, as it's up to you to determine how much you want—you have to pay for it. This is very simple.
I don't see why the general, ordinary user should subsidize the heavy users. This decision affects 500,000 people. We have 9 million subscribers. All of them are subject to caps right now. We are talking about those 500,000 customers, and not all of them, obviously, only those who are heavy users. We should put this in proportion.
We will make the decision on the basis of submissions that have come before us, and I'm sure people will say the way we did it was too rigid, and second, the discount of 15% is not enough. It has to be a higher one, and maybe that's it. We will look at it with fresh eyes and open minds. I don't have a fixed idea. The principle to me is clear. The ordinary guy should not subsidize the heavy user.
Are the modalities being used correctly or can we do it better? I don't claim to have a monopoly on wisdom. We made our decision on the basis of evidence before us, and thanks to this publicity, I'm sure there will be all sorts of new evidence come before us. As a result of it, the decision may be different or we may reaffirm. I can't tell you this right away.