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Recent decisions from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regarding usage-based billing and bandwidth throttling should serve to illustrate that decisions from the government can have a direct impact no only on your monthly bill, but also on the very nature of Internet Canadians will be using in coming years and decades.

Photo courtesy liewcf on Flikr.

With the upcoming spectrum auction for the much sought-after 700 megahertz wireless airwaves, the future of Canada’s digital economy is one again in the hands of federal regulators.

The 700 megahertz spectrum was recently freed-up when television broadcasting ceased to use this over-the-air method to deliver channels into the homes of Canadians, and both incumbent providers such as Bell, Telus and Rogers, as well as new additions Wind Mobile and Mobilicity are fighting to buy up this valuable virtual space.

(Wind Mobile is currently the subject of a Supreme Court appeal which will determine if it is allowed to operate in Canada under existing foreign-ownership limitations. The government is the appellant and debate is growing as to whether allowing increased foreign ownership would create competition and better serve customers’ interests.)

This new spectrum will allow for greater bandwidth speeds and greater signal penetration  into buildings. In other words: it’s the next generation of mobile Internet. Soon, the government will be deciding who has the right to sell it.

In 2008, during a similar spectrum action which raised $4.3-billion for the federal government, space was reserved to allow new competitors to enter the wireless space. As a result, Canadians can now choose among the incumbents as well as a host of new players for where to spend their mobile phone money.

Making room for competition

The decision now at hand is whether the government should again reserve space for smaller companies to enter – or stay in – the wireless game. Bell, Rogers and Telus are lobbying to prevent this from happening. This is the most important front in whose name will appear on customers’ bills in the coming decades, and it’s happening right now.

Introducing new companies into the mobile marketplace can have a huge impact on our mobile Internet use. Some have argued that the carriers introduced in 2008, Wind Mobile and Mobilcity, have already created more competition and changed how Bell, Rogers, and Telus treat and bill customers.

The government’s decision will have a dramatic impact on how Canadians use mobile devices, including:

  • What will data rates be like?
  • Will unlimited internet plans be offered?
  • Will Canadians be able to buy data-only plans and make all their calls through Skype?

For those among us who cling to our iPhones, and those whose Blackberry never leaves their fingertips, consider this your warning: How Canadians use the Internet tomorrow is being decided today.