To keep rising costs for Internet access top of mind during the election, a Vancouver advocacy group has kicked off its Vote for the Internet campaign, giving election candidates the opportunity to take a position on Internet issues.
So far, the Green Party’s Elizabeth May and NDP leader Jack Layton have both said they support the campaign, launched by OpenMedia.ca.
“The Greens are proud to be the first party to announce support for OpenMedia’s proposition,” May said in a release.
“The Internet is critical for modern-day citizen engagement as well as to our economic competitiveness. The Greens pledge to stop the pay metre on Internet access. We are committed to enhancing broadband access, competition, transparency, and choice.”
“I’m certainly voting for the Internet,” Layton tweeted on April 6.
In an online ballot, constituents can send a letter to their local candidates urging them to become “pro-Internet.” Politicians who want to show their support can also sign up.
OpenMedia’s Steve Anderson says Canadians are waiting to see if Harper and Ignatieff join the Greens and NDP in committing their support to the campaign.
“I think that they’ll continue to feel the heat and sign up,” he says, adding that local candidates from all the major parties have added their support to the campaign.
In addition, “tens of thousands” of ordinary Canadians have signed up to call on their local MPs to take a position on Internet accessibility and affordability issues, he says.
“Canadians really understand that power of the Internet—I think they really believe in it and they’re excited about what’s possible. … We just provided a vehicle for people to express both their hopes and aspirations, and their frustrations.”
The campaign comes on the heels of a heated debate surrounding Internet policy reform in Canada. Earlier this year an outcry erupted when the CRTC accepted a proposal that would allow the big telecom companies to introduce usage-based billing, which would impose new per-usage fees and enforce monthly download caps.
An online petition started by OpenMedia called Stop the Meter gained almost 500,000 signatures against usage based billing, and forced the telecom companies and the CRTC to retract the proposal.
Anderson says such a strong reaction shows Canadians are fed up with expensive telecommunication rates and a lack of transparency from the big Internet service providers (ISPs).
In a recent report that dissects costs of delivering Internet services, Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, estimates the price markup for Internet services from large ISPs may be as much as 6,000 percent.
“When combined with the Internet costs of roughly one cent per GB for larger ISPs, a high end estimate of the per gigabyte costs for large Canadian ISPs is approximately 8 cents per GB,” Geist wrote in his report.
“While this is higher than the 3 cents per GB that has been invoked in some discussions, it is far lower than average costs imposed by some ISPs, which run as high as $10 per GB in Canada.”
Geist also says that a decade ago Canada’s broadband networks were placed among the best in the world. Currently however, they are falling behind many developed countries such as South Korea.
“Today [Canada] is at best a middle of the pack player with mounting frustration among both consumers and businesses reliant on a world-class digital infrastructure.”