Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2011/ Teksavvy


(I have been sitting on this entry since February, but will keep the same date that I originally wrote it.)

In the furor over Usage-Based Billing (UBB) and the interplay between the CRTC and large Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the name Teksavvy has come up a lot. Teksavvy is a small regional ISP that makes its money doing billing and service for its customers, while renting Bell's infrastructure to actually transmit data. Teksavvy has had a good reputation among tech nerds and heavy internet users for a few years now; it offered good pricing, free (unthrottled) internet access and sensible billing (such as calculating overage charges by averaging internet use over two months, as opposed to computing it month by month).

The UBB drama affected Teksavvy directly: as a company that uses Bell Canada's network, it would have to pay extra for extra bandwidth usage, and it would pass those charges to its customers. So it is no surprise that the company's CEO, Rocky Gaudreau, has been making a lot of media appearances and donating money. Although his interests and the interests of consumer geeks do not align perfectly, he has been a vocal supporter of many causes that tech geeks obsess over. The brand Teksavvy has become associated with "spunky independent ISP", which might be good for the company's business.

But on our local nerd mailing list, members have been uneasy. There has been a lot of talk of ditching Teksavvy in favour of other ISPs that don't rely on Bell or Rogers's infrastructure at all. In our area there is one company called Yak, and another called Eyesurf. The general argument is that people are sick and tired of the large ISPs Bell and Rogers, and they want to pay Bell as little as possible for their internet service. (It is hard to avoid lining Bell's pockets at all if you use DSL, because Bell and Rogers have special government agreements to run their lines to private property -- your home -- that others do not.)

Fair enough. I want to break up the large ISP duopoly as well, and supporting alternatives makes sense. But I get uneasy when I hear of people dropping Teksavvy in particular. Teksavvy has been a great ally for geek causes and consumer rights, and taking business away from it to punish Bell reminds me of cliches involving babies and bathwater. Teksavvy has been vocal on our behalf. Without it, we would have little to no voice in this debate -- we would write our letters and sign our petitions, and we would be ignored. But because Teksavvy exists and is willing to take a public stand, the media listens to our concerns and takes them seriously. There are other independent ISPs in our area who don't make the news, so expecting somebody else to step up to the plate if people drop Teksavvy is not a given.

There is an argument to be made that Teksavvy should be trying to become independent of Bell's infrastructure the way Eyesurf and Yak have. I agree with that sentiment, but I also think that there is value in Teksavvy running as it does now. If nothing else, this makes Teksavvy a watchdog on the shenanigans Bell pulls. Teksavvy is going to operate in its own best interests, and if making money (and avoiding arbitrary Bell charges) motivates it to speak on our behalf then we as consumers come out ahead. But that only happens if Teksavvy stays in business, and that only happens if it maintains its customer base.

As usual, I am a hypocrite about this. I have no internet access at home. At work we considered using Teksavvy as our ISP for some recent installations, but wend with Yak instead. Yak's service is okay for now, but it is clear that their politics are not aligned with mine, and when policy debates like UBB come up I do not expect Yak to stand up on my behalf.

One of the miracles of capitalism is that it is possible for us to maintain business relationships and connections with those we find abhorrent. This is a miracle because it creates strong incentives for us to avoid getting into wars with each other, which is not the case when parochial tribalism dominates. But there is also a sense in which values do matter. I have frequently been let down when I use a product or service knowing that my goals only incidentally intersect with those of my supplier. I have been much more pleased when I have chosen suppliers whose values correspond better to mine. In the case of Teksavvy, I think politics and values are relevant to the discussion.