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Majority scoffs at usage-based Internet billing in poll

Demonstrators gather for a 'Stop The Internet Meter' rally to protest usage-based internet billing in downtown Toronto, Friday, February 4, 2011.

Darren Calabrese/Darren Calabrese / CP

An online poll asks Internet users whether they want a usage-based pay system on the web and they overwhelmingly say no.

Seventy-six per cent of respondents in a Angus Reid Public Opinion poll late last week disagreed with the CRTC's ruling calling for Internet service providers to adopt the billing practice, know as UBB.

The results come as NDP digital critic Charlie Angus launches an online campaign against Internet metering. The issue exploded on to the government's agenda last week when Industry Minister Tony Clement threatened to overrule the CRTC if it did not review it's decision.

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While the polling response is somewhat expected, Angus Reid vice-president Jaideep Mukerji warns the government must "tread lightly' on this file. It's a pocketbook issue and one that people can understand - especially younger voters who download music and video obsessively on the Internet.

Interestingly, Mr. Mukerji said his company decided last Monday that UBB would be a good issue to tap into - and then they watched as it took on a life of its own as more and more Canadians reacted to the CRTC plan. The poll was taken before the CRTC announced it would delay its decsion by at least 60 days.

"I think Canadians see the Internet a bit like television: You pay for cable, and perhaps pay more for extra bells and whistles, but the amount of television you watch, or the amount of information you download from the Internet, shouldn't necessarily factor in to how much you pay," Mr. Mukerji said. "Judging by the number of respondents who are strongly opposed to the idea of UBB, changing that mindset among Canadian Internet users likely won't be easy."

The poll of 1,024 Canadians, which was conducted between Feb. 2 and 3, found that the level of "strong disagreement" was surpassed 50 per cent in every region of the country. Ontario registered the highest disdain with 74 per cent compared to Quebec with 52 per cent.

When broken down by gender and age, 69 per cent of men opposed metered Internet billing compared to 59 per cent for women; 62 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 34 did not like the plan compared to 68 per cent of those aged 25 to 54 and 59 per cent of those older than 55.

The poll also asked respondents to rate Canada's broadband industry. Most respondents said the industry is "average at best," and only a quarter believe it is "ahead of the curve".

And the opposition isn't done with the CRTC controversy. The NDP pressed the Conservatives during Question Period on Monday about perceived cronyism in a recent appointment to the regulatory commission.

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"The patronage appointment of Athanasios Pentefountas as vice-chair of the CRTC was the lastest and most brazen in a long line of cronyism inspired Conservative appointments," the New Democrats said in a release Monday. The Montreal lawyer, who was also an unsuccessful ADQ candidate, has close ties to Dimitri Soudas, the Prime Minister's director of communications.

But Heritage Minister James Moore's office defended the appointment, arguing that Mr. Pentefountas will make a positive contribution to the board.

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