The User Based Billing debate is gaining momentum across the country, and has taken over this morning’s research, reading and writing time, which with having to do double-duty at my day job for the next two weeks, is putting a huge dent in how much content I can process while still maintaining what little bit of sanity I still possess. I’d like to write much, much more – but time constraints are not very forgiving when one is being pulled in a dozen different directions which constantly conflict with the whole parent-work-life-relaxation balance equation. It’s not just game developers who suffer from that affliction.
As sites like Anti UBB  appear and high profile talk shows on the radio and television news casts are rife with people on both sides of the UBB debate stating their opinions, it is clear that Canadians are getting fed up with constant hits to their pocketbook and CRTC decisions.
Is it somewhat ironic that as this debate heats up, CBC  issues a press release outlining the changes coming to the public broadcaster, and included in this five year plan outline is an increased digital offering, which Canadians will have to think twice about consuming because that other “public agency” the CRTC says we have to stop clogging up the internet and not use it so much – or pay highly inflated fees to go over our allotment.
According to the press release, CBC’s Everyone Every Way plan is about the future of public broadcasting in Canada. It’s about transformation in the midst of a technological revolution, and about evolving alongside a changing country. It’s a strategy that binds CBC and Radio-Canada around common priorities which also respects the reality that execution of the strategy needs to be tailored to the uniqueness of their respective markets.
Over the next five years, CBC/Radio-Canada will strengthen its commitment to original, innovative, high-quality Canadian content. We will also commit to airing at least 10 signature events per year in English and in French — events like Live Right Now and Concert inaugural de la nouvelle salle de concert de Montréal avec l’OSM — which bring Canadians together in large numbers, are delivered on multiple platforms, and have a meaningful impact on participants and viewers alike.
CBC will be looking to expand its regional footprint, launching new radio stations, introducing new local websites and services, and increasing regional news and programming. Radio-Canada will enhance its presence in regional life by producing engaging local programming that can then be used for broadcast nationally, by delivering more local and regional news, and by providing more local French-language content on regional websites, especially those outside of Quebec. In an evolving digital and on-demand world, CBC/Radio-Canada will continue its leadership in new platforms and digital services, doubling its investment over the next five years.
“The way forward will be about seizing the tremendous opportunity we have before us to truly change our relationship with Canadians on a national, community and personal level,” says Lacroix. “We can’t be all things to all people, but we can and must in some way be something for, and mean something to every Canadian. Everyone, Every way is our commitment to Canadians, and it’s the measure by which we want to be judged. We will meet their expectations. Nothing less.”
CBC/Radio-Canada will deliver on this commitment in four ways: by creating and delivering original and innovative, quality Canadian content; by reflecting and drawing together all Canadians; by actively engaging with audiences; and, by being cost-effective and accountable. To evaluate progress, we have developed metrics to track and assess our performance by service and genre against the strategy twice per year.
The federal Liberal party has come out with their own take  on the issue, saying that they have been paying attention and take the side of the Canadian buying public – and asking for the public’s support to defeat the Conservatives in a future election. Today’s Liberal statement has garnered praise from citizen engagement group OpenMedia.ca , the organization behind the rapidly growing Stop The Meter  petition – and comes one day after the OpenMedia group noted in a press release yesterday that the Liberals and Conservatives had been rather quiet on the issue.
Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement did issue a comment late last evening, with a statement of support for “competition, innovation, and consumers” in general, but OpenMedia.ca holds that Canadians will not be happy until they have access to Internet services free of metering.
Steve Anderson, OpenMedia.ca’s national coordinator responded to Minister Clement’s statement by saying that “Clement is going to have to do more than ask the CRTC to do some tinkering with UBB pricing. He must either overturn all the CRTC rulings that force pricing schemes on Big Telecom’s independent competitors, or at minimum have the CRTC revisit the entire premise of forced UBB pricing.”
In regards to today’s Liberal statement, Anderson said that “We’re elated by this move by the Liberals. Over the last few months, supporters of Stop The Meter came together as citizens, and today they fundamentally influenced federal politics. This is a groundbreaking example of the power of the online discourse and organization, and why we must protect the open, public Internet.”
OpenMedia.ca is pleased that the Liberals have learned from the 220,000 people who have so far taken part in the campaign to “stop the meter on Internet use”, and reverse the CRTC decision that allows usage-based billing to monopolize the system for pricing the Internet. Led by Rodriquez and Industry and Technology Critic Marc Garneau, the Liberal Party has now become the second major federal party to officially condemn Internet metering.
“Liberals believe in more internet competition, not less,” said Liberal Heritage Critic Pablo Rodriquez in a statement released today, seemingly echoing the words on OpenMedia.ca’s homepage: “Canadians want more Internet, not less”.
Digital Affairs Critic Charlie Angus expressed the NDP’s opposition to the pricing regime in a press release  on January 20th, stating that ““We’ve seen this all before with cell phones. Allowing the Internet Service Providers to ding you every time you download is a rip-off. Canada is already falling behind other countries in terms of choice, accessibility and pricing for the Internet. The large ISP-broadcast entities now have a tool for squashing their main competitors – both in internet and video services, and we need clear rules that put consumers first.”
Dr. Michael Geist has also weighed in on the UBB issue, stating on his site  that “despite the obvious anger over the issue, there remains a considerable amount of misinformation about what has happened and uncertainty about just what to do about it. This post attempts to unpack the issue, by discussing two related but not identical concerns – the recent CRTC UBB decision and the broader use of bandwidth caps by virtually all large Canadian ISPs.”
Dr. Geist looks at both sides of the issue, and offers his thoughts on options for a solution to what is promising to become a heated, and weighted battle for Canadians as they watch the Telcos seemingly take on the stance of the playground bully in the neighbourhood sandbox. (those are my words, not Dr. Geist’s.) 
Is this tongue-in-cheek look at the UBB issue, created by Colin Walsh of Celsius Game Studio  going to be the future for our digital developers as they attempt to create products for global consumers? At least his latest game, Red Nova , didn’t use a ton of bandwidth when I bought it for my iPod Touch.
A related issue for ourselves is the fact that we have long wanted to move our dedicated server account from an American data centre to one in Canada, in part because we’re tired of dealing with the fluctuating exchange rates and the “foreign currency fees” charged by our credit card company, but also because we’d like to be supporting business north of the 49th. Unfortunately, while the actual server plans available in Canada are somewhat reasonable even though they may lack some of the perks we get with SoftLayer, the bandwidth allowances and charges have always caused us to put on the brakes. We have looked at many options, including building a server and upgrading to business internet so that we would be permitted to run it from our home office, but again, bandwidth charges and licensing for all of the software we use is cost-prohibitive. With our plans for the expansion and re-branding of Village Gamer, we either have to take a more serious look at selling advertising space or find other ways to monetize the site without compromising our impartiality or the perception of said impartiality.
I also have to be cautious about the trailers and other large files we download and then upload either to our server or to places like our YouTube channel , because now every byte counts. We’ve probably come close to hitting our cap a few times, and now that Shaw has quietly reduced our bandwidth cap by 25 gigabytes we have to consider what software, games and game add-ons we purchase online. With three gamers in the house using three PCs, two laptops, two Xbox 360s and a Wii, all running on one internet account, this is something that has the potential to become a huge issue – and cost – for us, especially as many game and software titles have huge updates between the time they are shipped and the time they are installed. Am I going to get the next chapter in the ongoing saga of super hero DeathSpank  or just read about it in press releases? How big am I going to be able to make my world in Dragon Age 2 , and what extras will I be getting as I take up the fight in Deus Ex: Human Revolution ? Will I be getting that next QuickBooks update, and how much bandwidth will the tax files use up? Are the ISPs going to launch their own game and software download service to go along with their Video On Demand service and compete with Steam, Direct to Drive, the Wii Store, PlayStation Network, Xbox Marketplace and other digital download outlets? I hope I didn’t just give them any bright ideas…
Do we cut some of our digital channels and upgrade our internet plan? We’re already using the Extreme plan and to upgrade to the next available plan would be another $50.00 per month for an extra 75 gigs per month. Which Canadian channels would we drop and how much bandwidth would we burn through watching the shows from those channels online – if they’re even available online? Now instead of conveniently transferring large web site files between computers via MSN Messenger, we will most likely be making use of USB drives or data CDs – which means we get to pay the copyright surcharge to the government when we buy more drives and more CDs to transfer our own data – or perhaps we just add an internal file server and pay for the extra hydro power needed to run it, then we can have the Township pounding on our door wanting to search our house because of excessive power use.
I won’t even go into all those Windows and software updates that can sometimes involve huge files, with ISPs recommending that all computers have the latest updates and patches in order to remain secure, which is a no-brainer, but will still have an effect on our bottom line for bandwidth usage, which, but the way, we can’t even check on because apparently Shaw doesn’t show bandwidth usage on client account profiles unless said account is a habitual bandwidth hog. Why is it a secret? If Shaw knows how much bandwidth we’re using, why can’t WE know how much bandwidth we’re using? The whole process of cable television, internet connection and usage has become a huge tangled web for consumer – and yes, that pun was intended. To add to my Telcom rant, why can’t we have total control over our “bundles” and choose all of the extra channels we want over and above basic cable? Why do we have to have a bunch of channels we don’t watch built into them, instead of being able to build a bundle out of the channels we do want – and why can’t we burn some of our bandwidth up by going to our account profiles and checking off which channels we want? The Build Your Own Bundle option is just a tad misleading, don’t you think?
Spurred by the CRTC’s controversial UBB decision, Canada’s largest high-technology organization has also joined supporters of an initiative to connect Canada with ultra-fast communications, putting out a release today calling for the creation of a new model for the implementation of broadband in Canada.
“Fast and affordable communications is vital to society as well as business,” stated John Reid, President of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance  (CATA). “We are in danger of falling even further behind the rest of the world if we can’t develop a new, workable model for the adoption of broadband — the fundamental infrastructure for today’s knowledge economy. We need to collectively resolve issues such as usage-based billing within the framework of a larger national plan.”
“Our i-CANADA program to accelerate the development of connected communities and to regain Canada’s leadership in the digital economy is in danger of getting tangled,” said Bill Hutchison, Chair of the i-CANADA program. “We have a New National Dream that will bring global leadership through the use of ultra-fast intelligent communications and collaboration within communities to reach new levels of economic, environmental and social growth and prosperity. This dream is being threatened by a start-and-stop policy environment in Canada.”
Mr. Hutchison illustrated some of the crippling problems that Canadian society faces due to the lack of a consensual overall model: “There may be as many as 700,000 homes in Canada that lack broadband Internet access, and many of those who have it are complaining of speeds so slow that they are barely faster than dial-up. By comparison, the U.S. government’s “National Broadband Plan” sets a target speed of ‘affordable’ 100 megabits-per-second Internet service connecting at least 100 million homes by 2020. Australia has pledged $43-billion to the creation of a high-speed network.
“We need a firm consensus in Canada on what our ‘baseline’ of acceptable speed and cost is,” said Mr. Hutchison. “Businesses need to plan, communities need to build jobs, and residents need access to services such as online health care and education.”
Conflicts like the one over usage-based billing can only be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction if Canada has a strategy for broadband development: “The old model where the private sector is expected to pay for infrastructure development from their profits, has greatly changed,” indicated Mr. Hutchison. “Now that communications is a ‘commodity’, it no longer affords the same level of profit to the telecommunications companies. We need a new model for infrastructure development. We have a good momentum going, but we need a national debate to be able to resolve the broadband issue.”
Welcome to Canada – where you can create all of the great digital products you want – you just can’t share it with your fellow citizens unless you get really creative and innovative with file size and delivery compression.