2011 Hero: TekSavvy
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2011 Hero: TekSavvy

Nominated for: taking on communications bullies.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past twelve months. From December 12–23, the candidates for Mightiest and Meanest—and new this year, a reader’s write-in option! From December 26–29 you’ll be able to vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year, and we’ll reveal the results December 30.

It’s hard not to come off as heroic when your main competitors act like cruel and vindictive schoolyard bullies—you know, the ones that threaten you into giving up your lunch money, and then beat you up anyway just for shits and giggles. (To make this analogy fully work the teacher would also have to be friends with the bullies’ moms or something, thus giving them free reign over the playground—more on that in a minute.)

In the Canadian broadband world, TekSavvy, the Chatham-based Internet wholesaler (in Toronto they mostly rent infrastructure from Bell and Rogers) is just another little guy on the playground. Sure, their cause isn’t entirely altruistic—they want to make money too—but when it comes to what’s best for consumers, they actually seem to give a damn.

What’s sad is that things weren’t always so bad. We didn’t always need a white knight. Not too long ago, Canada was considered a broadband leader. Now we boast some of the slowest and most expensive Internet access in the developed world.

The problem, according to watchdogs, journalists, customer advocates, and just about everyone else who isn’t Rogers, Bell, Telus, or the CRTC, is the incestuous relationship between aforementioned telcoms and their so-called “regulator.” As the Globe and Mail‘s Hugh Thompson writes, “Rather than ensuring consumers receive fair Internet pricing, the CRTC seems content to line the pockets of Cable and telecommunications companies by forcing Canadian consumers to pay Internet data rates that have no basis in reality.”

So what makes TekSavvy different? Well, to start, the wholesaler prides itself on providing transparent, contract-free pricing options and decent customer service, instead of confusing bundles, locked-in contacts, and generally mind-blowingly dismal tech support. They’ve also been strong advocates for net neutrality, unencumbered over-the-top content, more robust competition, and greater industry transparency, while rejecting and arguing against throttling, bandwidth caps, excessive vertical integration, and usage-based billing (UBB).

Recently, the CRTC, after taking heat from Canadians and the federal government, made the decision not to support UBB at the wholesaler level. A clear win for TekSavvy, right? Don’t worry, the CRTC isn’t turning its back on the big telecoms just yet. The decision’s wildly inflated rate structure will still allow the big boys to continue to gouge and stifle competition.

Torontonians, we’re big Internet users, and as debate over the future of Canada’s Internet continues, it’s nice to know that at least one ISP has our back.