Lindsey Pinto is at the forefront of the fight against usage-based billing for Internet service in Canada. She’s the Ottawa-born, 22-year-old communications manager for OpenMedia.ca, whose online petition in opposition to Internet metering has been signed more than 415,000 times.
Since the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission released its latest ruling in favour of usage-based billing on January 25, Pinto has been running low on sleep and high on caffeine. This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper ordered a review of the decision. And CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein, while defending usage-based billing as a “legitimate principle for pricing Internet services”, announced that the regulatory body will re-examine its ruling.
The Georgia Straight reached Pinto by phone at OpenMedia’s office in Vancouver.
Are you ready to claim victory in the fight against usage-based billing?
We’re ready and waiting to claim victory. It’s not won yet. We’ve taken some major strides forward and definitely seen what public participation and citizens standing together online can do. But, no, we’re not done yet.
What outcome will satisfy you and OpenMedia.ca?
I don’t know if we’ll be completely satisfied overall. But we would love to have Internet metering overturned and to say that this is an unfair pricing structure that penalizes users, and for the CRTC to admit that. And for the government to realize the importance of an open and affordable Internet, and do some serious, structural changes to make sure that this kind of thing isn’t what’s on the table for the future of Canadian Internet.
What bugs you most about usage-based billing?
The punitive nature of it, really. The fact that we’re punishing Canadians financially for what telecommunications companies are calling Internet overuse, and that we’re increasing the digital divide. And saying people who have the means are the people who should be able to produce things online and have access to the stuff that requires a lot of data, and the people who don’t or can’t afford to pay or don’t have much reason to want to pay are basically punished and told that they’re not allowed to enter that realm of discourse.
How much do you think usage-based billing would hurt an average person’s wallet?
Well, it’s hard to say exactly. The whole situation surrounding usage-based billing is that it’s applied on independent Internet service providers, and the check that market competition would provide is basically eroded, so these big telecommunications companies are able say how much the Internet should cost. So, initially, it will probably make the Internet cost maybe double. But, in the long run, we can see it being increasingly prohibitively expensive.
What was key to the success of the online petition?
People sharing with their friends. People who have been amazing. They’ve made YouTube videos. They’ve made some weird YouTube videos and some great YouTube videos. They’ve printed out the petition and passed it along to their friends. It’s been incredible how much sharing has gone on. People, they’re changing their profile pictures to the meter picture, and the topic #UBB is trending on Twitter. It’s just everybody who’s driving this. It’s way out of our hands now. We’re just facilitators.
What impact do you think your campaign has had on the relationship between government and citizens and the Internet?
Basically, it’s levelled the playing field between citizens and the government in power. Government’s kind of been exposed as a group of individuals who make decisions, and citizens are starting to realize that they are as intelligent and as capable at determining what their own needs are and whether they can accrue a critical mass and have those needs be met. We’re seeing how the policy process works, and we’re being exposed to how governments and the CRTC choose to regulate the Internet, and we’re not going back to a world where the veil’s pulled over our eyes, and industry’s being considered a stakeholder but citizens aren’t.
What’s another looming threat to net neutrality in Canada?
Right now, the rulings are such that Internet service providers are not allowed to discriminate based on application or content. But those aren’t enforced. The CRTC doesn’t conduct audits of Internet service providers to make sure that they’re adhering to these rules, and they rely solely on citizen reporting, the process of which is very unclear.
When ISPs do get caught throttling or slowing down or speeding things up, then there isn’t that much in the way of punishment for that. On paper, we have net neutrality. But, in reality, we can see things like Rogers being caught throttling the Internet and being told to disclose their traffic-management practices more, rather than being told that they can no longer do it.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.