Geek Speak: Lindsey Pinto, OpenMedia.ca

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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.

Comments (9) Add New Comment
Ron James
Excellent article! Thanks, Straight. Lindsey and Steve, thank you for all your efforts.

UBB is like buying gasoline at the pump for $50, and then paying $1 for every mile that you drive.  

ISPs are charging us $50 per month, which easily covers our usage, plus a huge profit, and then expecting us to pay for our usage a SECOND TIME, at a 2000% markup!  It costs less than a penny per GB, and they charge $2-$5 per GB!

We really need our government officials to read the following article, instead of just taking Bell's word for their so-called "network congestion" which is simply an excuse to limit our access to their web-based TV competitors, ie: Netflix.
http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Canadian-Caps-Arent-Economically-Just...
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Chris C.
Thanks for the candid article! It's really nice to see the face and learn a bit about the person who's behind this, one of the greatest things I've seen since John and Yoko's Bed-in in Montreal in the bed-in back in 69 :)

Two thumbs up, Lindsay, people from all generations are with you, you're showing people what has been forgotten all so often, that together, we can change the world for the better!
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I Love Lindsey
cutest nerd ever!
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Leslie Murray
Don't we already pay for usage above a certain amount with the phone and cable companies?
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Chris C.
"Don't we already pay for usage above a certain amount phone and cable companies?"

With the Big Three, you already do, and that's what they are fighting so hard to enforce onto the INDEPENDENTS.

It's like Bell (Rogers/Videotron) going to the corner mom and pop store with with a couple of srongmen, threatening the owners they can't offer better services than them for cheaper or else they'll be big trouble, and ask the CRTC, a government body, to help with the intimidation!!!

Heck, not even organized crime makes that kind of profit in its businesses and has the gall to buy off the law like these bullies do!
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Marc Erickson
The CRTC was captured long ago by the industry it supposedly regulates - see Herschel Hardin's book Closed Circuits: the sellout of Canadian television.

http://ipac2.vpl.ca/ipac20/ipac.jsp?session=129725M17X067.580&profile=pa...
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Azien Munro (Nesters Deli Guy)
That's one insightful and articulate article Lindsay. Mighty impressive argument and certainly something that needs to be discussed and rectified by our government. It's something that quite a few of my friends including my family are talking about already, and prices are already skyrocketing with internet use on the iPhone.
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Pools Portfolio
I think that buying telecommunications stocks would be great since this would mean great earnings for the shareholders to buy these telecommuncation giant stocks. With fat dividends getting into the pockets where a monopoly can be made, I would love to see big banks put these stocks into their monthly income funds so that they can pay their unitholders their monthly distributions without having to resort to returning capital which would in turn erode the unit value.
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Liam
In a bull market, telecommunication coumpanies need to do this to ensure that shareholders get fat dividends and that their stock prices are protected. Bay Street understand only one thing: Short sellers. Unless you have the bankroll to short the market and can trigger a sell off of the stock prices of these telecommunication giants, they are just laughing at your complaints.
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