The CRTC is currently asking for papers on the topic of whether or not Internet service providers (ISPs) should be exempt from contribution charges. In the past ISPs have not had to pay them, but that could all change in the near future.
Contribution charges are payments made to the local phone companies purportedly to help them subsidize the local service they must provide.
These charges typically are a per minute charge for use of the phone line, and usually apply to all lines a company has. The Bell companies have long touted that providing local service to everyone is a losing proposition for them. While it certainly may be in Northern Ontario, it probably is not in large cities.
However, with local competition starting for your phone service on January 1, Bell is trying to catch as many people as possible in its contributory web.
The CRTC's request for public comments includes all the major Bell companies, long distance carriers and ISPs.
Bell's response is simple on the surface. Sure, an ISP should be exempted, providing they meet certain criteria and can prove it. However, the criteria they suggest is liable to catch every ISP.
The cause for concern, according to Bell, is that there is voice traffic being used across the Internet, and therefore, they should get a piece of it. Thinking they can't possibly bill each individual user, they want to instead target the ISPs.
Bell's proposal starts by stating that every ISP should have to register with the CRTC and Bell or their local provider, known as a LEC (Local Exchange Carrier).
Then, the ISP would have to specifically apply for an exemption. Although having to register with what is possibly your competitor is heinous enough, it is the exemption criteria that are more worrisome.
There are three classes an ISP would fall into. The first, is that the ISP offers no voice or contribution eligible services, and shares no space with anyone who does. The second, is that the ISP does offer some of these services, and still shares no space with anyone who does and the third is that he does offer them or shares space with someone who does.
The insidious key here, is the sharing of space. An ISP may offer no services that fit the category, but if he happens to lease space from someone who does, he is automatically caught.
Companies such as ACC Internet or Sprint, who's parent company is a long distance carrier are toast. They share computer rooms across the country to save costs. Although the two divisions may have nothing to do with each other, by their physical proximity, they are caught.
And what about the ISP who wants to install his own ADSL equipment and rents space in a Bell CO? They too would be caught, for their entire operation, just because of a simple rental agreement.
Even worse, if an ISP's customers were to co-locate a server on the ISP's premises that offered some of these services, the ISP would be caught because of that one customer's actions.
This doesn't feel right, and it isn't. An ISP should not be forced to pay a tax because of where its physical equipment resides, or what type of customer he has.
Guilt by association should not be tolerated in our society. Taxing the ISP because he is an easier target than the offender is shameful.
The Bell proposal should be denied by the CRTC.