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CRTC head called before committee over usage-based billing

The chairman of the CRTC will appear before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on Thursday, as the regulator's decision on usage-based billing for Internet services continues to generate anger among consumers and businesses.

Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, will appear before the committee of federal MPs to explain the regulator's decision, which allows large Internet providers like Bell Canada to charge smaller providers who lease space on their networks on a per-byte, or usage, basis.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed to review the decision, lending clout to Industry Minister Tony Clement's announcement to examine the CRTC ruling a day earlier. Mr. Clement and Mr. Harper's cabinet, of course, have overturned the CRTC before -- most notably by striking down the regulator's ruling that Globalive, which now operates Wind Mobile, couldn't launch service in the regulated sector because of foreign financial backing.

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As consumer groups and small businesses have spoken out in recent weeks, political interest in the previously obscure ruling has grown. First the NDP spoke out, decrying the ruling in the name of consumers. After Mr. Clement said he would review the decision, the Liberals took a firm stance against it with Liberal MP and industry critic Marc Garneau saying he would urge Mr. Clement to overturn the decision.

The ruling affects how large Internet providers charge smaller, government-mandated Internet service providers such as Teksavvy. In recent months, the competitive ISPs have banded together in the Canadian Network Operators Consortium -- with roughly 2 million customers among them -- to fight the decision.

It had been previously announced that the industry committee would study the usage-based billing decision, but it was unclear whether Mr. von Finckenstein himself would appear. He will be accompanied by Len Katz, the CRTC's vice-chair for telecommunications.

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