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SaskTel Exposes Predatory Wireless Pricing from Telus, Bell, and Rogers

sasktelTelus, Bell and Rogers charge customers as much as 45 percent less on wireless service where they face a fourth regional competitor in a case of suspected predatory pricing that could threaten the viability of competition in Canada’s wireless marketplace.

SaskTel, a crown corporation, is one of several Canadian regional wireless providers. The Saskatchewan Telecommunications Holding Corporation, based in Regina, said SaskTel’s revenue and net income dipped to $1.205 billion and $90.1 million, respectively. SaskTel (which has net income of $106.2 million in 2012) projects this will be only $59.2 million next year.

The dramatic drop in revenue, in part, comes from suspiciously low wireless rates in areas where SaskTel and other regional providers operate.

Sudden rate cuts were introduced last summer and are available only to customers where regional firms offer wireless service. Vidéotron in Quebec, EastLink in the Maritimes, MTS in Manitoba, and SaskTel in Saskatchewan are all impacted. But the savings don’t extend outside of these competitive areas, leading to whispered accusations that the Big Three are engaged in predatory pricing behavior, designed to undercut competitors while maintaining high rates for everyone else.

Styles

Styles

SaskTel president Ron Styles told The Leader-Post Telus has been offering customers in Saskatchewan a rate 45% lower than customers in Red Deer, Alberta pay. SaskTel is forced to match those rates to stay competitive, but it has hit the crown corporation’s finances hard.

“We’re very concerned; it’s had a major impact,” Don McMorris, cabinet minister responsible for SaskTel, told the newspaper.

Although many customers are happy paying a much lower mobile phone bill, the savings may prove temporary.

Canada’s three national carriers have proved particularly adept as killing off any competitors threatening their 90%+ market share. Public Mobile found it difficult to attract new customers away from rival Telus, so as the business floundered, Telus made the upstart company an offer it couldn’t refuse, shut down Public’s network, and transferred customers to its own network.

Although stopping short of directly pointing the finger at the Big Three, Styles is headed to Ottawa to discuss the implications of predatory pricing on SaskTel’s future. But he left no doubt something is up.

If Bell, Telus and Rogers can afford to offer low rates here and on other “4th carrier” turf, does that mean their wireless rates are needlessly high elsewhere, Styles asks. Or are the Big 3 engaged in “predatory pricing” — selling something below cost to damage or destroy competitors and keep new entrants out of the market.

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Cogeco Won’t Lower Your Bill; Warns Customers Not to Be “Victims” of Landline Cutting

Phillip Dampier April 14, 2014 Canada, Cogeco, Competition, Consumer News No Comments

cogecoDespite growing competition from Bell’s fiber-to-the-neighborhood service Fibe, now expanding into many of Cogeco’s outer suburban service areas, Cogeco will not negotiate a better deal for customers, preferring to emphasize its customer service and “right-sizing” bundles of services to best meet customer needs.

As a result of higher prices, Cogeco’s earnings and profits are up for the second quarter of 2014. In the quarter profits rose to $58.5 million — up from $48.9 million during the same quarter a year ago. Revenue rose to $518.4 million from $458.5 million.

“We don’t like competing on price,” said Cogeco CEO Louis Audet said. “I’m not saying it’s zero, but we really don’t like competing on price.”

Audet

Audet

Customers have been offered sign up discounts from Cogeco’s most aggressive competitor on pricing – Bell. But when customers in parts of Ontario and Quebec call Cogeco to negotiate for a lower price, they are largely being turned down.

Audet said Cogeco instead emphasizes that customers will receive better customer service from the cable company, and customer retention specialists are trained to adjust packages to emphasize the services customers want without cutting their cost.

“It’s a right-sizing exercise,” Audet said. “Maybe the person wants a little less video, but they want higher Internet speeds.”

Cogeco isn’t winning the battle to keep its price-sensitive customers, however. The company lost 10,305 subscribers in the second quarter, nearly double the amount lost in the same quarter a year ago. Cogeco now serves 1.96 million Canadian cable television customers.

Customers are also dropping their Cogeco phone service, a decision Audet said makes them “victims” of cell phones. Cogeco permanently disconnected 6,000 landlines in the quarter, up from 5,550 a year ago. It still serves 473,000 phone customers.

The company lost almost 6,000 telephone customers in the quarter compared with additions of 5,550 in the same quarter last year. It had more than 473,000 residential phone customers left.

Despite the customer losses, rate increases more than made up for lost revenue, giving the company a nearly $10 million boost in profits during the second quarter alone.

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Telus Implementing Usage-Based Billing April 21; Already Raised Broadband Rates in Feb.

Phillip Dampier April 3, 2014 Canada, Internet Overcharging, Telus No Comments

Telus is notifying customers in Prince George, B.C. and surrounding areas it will begin imposing usage-based billing for Internet service effective April 21.

Despite claims that implementing usage-based charges will save customers money, nearly every Telus broadband user is already paying a higher bill because of a rate increase announced in late January.

logoTelus

telus data allowance

Telus’ usage allowances range from 15GB a month for High Speed Lite users to 400GB for Telus Internet 50 users. Telus is also imposing a scaled overlimit fee system based on the total amount of excess usage. Customers face a $5 overlimit fee for up to 50GB of overuse to a maximum of $75 for 350GB and above. A typical customer with a 150GB usage allowance using 250GB would pay the usual $55/month broadband charge plus a $25 overlimit penalty, raising the price of service to $80.

Starting in June, Telus will introduce an Unlimited Internet Usage option (price not disclosed) for any of their Internet plans.

overlimit fees

Telus wants to fence in "data hogs" with "fairness."

Telus wants to fence in “data hogs” with “fairness.”

“It’s fair that people pay for how much they use, as you would with any other service,” Telus explained. “Our goal is to offer customers a broad spectrum of plans that meet everyone’s needs, and to get customers on the right plan for them.

“Someone who uses their basic Internet service for a bit of email, Skyping with the grandkids, and sharing photos shouldn’t pay as much as someone who games and downloads hundreds of gigabytes of videos every month,” Telus added.

Of course, every customer is already paying more after Telus raised its broadband rates on Feb. 26.

“The cost of managing, expanding and improving our network continues to rise,” Telus explained. “We’re doing our best to keep rate increases as moderate as possible, while still offering great services, flexibility and good value.”

So effectively no customer is actually saving any money with Telus’ usage-based billing. They are actually paying more today and could potentially pay much more when overlimit fees take effect later this month.

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Regulators@Work: CRTC Smacks Canadian Adult Networks for Showing Too Little Canadian Porn

Phillip Dampier March 6, 2014 Canada, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

aovWhile you wait for Canada’s telecommunications regulator to wake up and realize the country is in the grip of an anti-competitive broadband duopoly, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is busy making sure Canadian heritage is protected with requirements that adult networks air enough homegrown porn.

In a notice published Wednesday, the CRTC notified Toronto-based AOV Adult Movie Channel, AOV XXX Action Clips and AOV Maleflixxx they were allegedly not in compliance with their license obligating them to feature at least 35 percent Canadian-produced content, at least 90% of it is closed-captioned for the hard of hearing.

Channel Zero, which owns the adult networks, was also cited for similar violations affecting its Movieola and Silver Screen Classics networks.

Canadian reporters asking penetrating questions about how the CRTC exactly monitors compliance of Canadian content requirements on the affected networks went unanswered.

The networks do run a regular series of shorts called “Canadian Quickies” that are inserted throughout the program schedule, which may be their attempt at complying with the content rules.

With the networks apparently not in compliance, the CRTC is accepting public comments on whether the licenses for all the networks should be renewed or canceled. Comments are due by Apr. 4 and the CRTC plans a full hearing on the matter Apr. 28.

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HissyFitWatch: Canadian Telecom Companies Annoyed Consumers Getting The Upper Hand

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

As the United States battles back against the introduction of usage caps and rising prices for broadband service, increased competition and regulated open wholesale access to some of Canada’s largest broadband providers have given Canadians an advantage in forcing providers to cut prices and improve service.

Canadians can now easily get unlimited broadband access from one of several independent ISPs that piggyback service on cable and phone networks. Some large ISPs have even introduced all-you-can eat broadband options for customers long-capped by the handful of big players. As customers consider switching providers, cable and phone companies have been forced to cut prices, especially for their best customers. Even cell service is now up for negotiation.

The more services a customer bundles with their provider, the bigger the discount they can negotiate, say analysts who track customer retention. Bell, Rogers, Telus, and others have a major interest keeping your business, even if it means reducing your price.

“It’s far more lucrative for the telecom company to keep you there for the third or fourth service,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told AP. It cuts down on marketing, service and installation calls, he added.

Getting the best deal often depends on your services, payment history, and how long you have been a customer. Cellphone discounts are the hardest to win, but customers are getting them if they have been loyal, carry a large balance and almost never pay late.

telus shawBigger discounts can be had for television and Internet service — cable television remains immensely profitable in Canada and broadband is cheap to offer, especially in cities. Americans often pay $80 or more for digital cable television packages, Canadians pay an average of $60.

Internet service in Canada now averages $45 a month, but many plans include usage caps. It costs more to take to the cap off.

Because of Canada’s past usage cap pervasiveness, online video is not as plentiful in Canada as it is in the United States. There has been considerably less cord-cutting in the north. Despite that, Canadians are ravenous online viewers of what they can find to watch (either legally or otherwise). As usage allowances disappear or become more generous, online video and the Internet will continue to grow in importance for service providers.

Customers should negotiate with their provider for a better deal, particularly if Bell’s Fibe TV is in town. Bell has been among the most aggressive in price cutting its fiber to the neighborhood television service for new customers ready to say goodbye to Rogers or Vidéotron.

Shaw and Telus battle for market share in the west and also have room to cut customer bills and still make a handsome profit.

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Quebec’s Cogeco Shopping for U.S. Cable Companies to Buy

Phillip Dampier February 6, 2014 Atlantic Broadband, Canada, Cogeco, Competition No Comments

cogecoWith the Canadian cable business locked up by Shaw, Rogers, and Vidéotron, Ltd., suburban Ontario and Quebec cable operator Cogeco announced intentions to acquire at least one small U.S. cable company later this year after it pays down more debt.

CEO Louis Audet told shareholders that cable operators in Canada are large, very profitable, and absolutely not for sale. That leaves few growth opportunities for the fourth largest cable operator in Canada. Instead of spending money to expand its current footprint into unserved areas, the company will look south of the border for buying opportunities.

Audet

Audet

“What you see is pretty much what you get unless something really special comes out of left field,” Audet said. “The potential exists in the U.S. where it doesn’t in Canada.”

Cogeco’s financial resources are too limited to challenge the three largest cable operators in the country, and Audet said Cogeco has no intention of selling its own business. In eastern Canada where Cogeco provides service, Rogers Communications would be the most likely to buy Cogeco. Rogers tried, and failed, to acquire Quebec-based Vidéotron in 2000 — losing out to media conglomerate Quebecor. But Rogers did succeed in picking up Shaw’s Ontario-based Mountain Cablevision, Ltd. last January.

Cogeco has pursued other cable companies outside of Canada in the past. Its acquisition of Portugal’s Cabovisao in 2006 was widely panned, and after Portugal’s economy crashed in the Great Recession, Cogeco ended up writing off its net investment, taking a $56.7 million loss. Cogeco acquired Cabovisao for $660 million and sold it to ALTICE six years later for the fire sale price of $59.3 million.

atlanticIn 2012, Cogeco acquired rural and small city cable operator Atlantic Broadband for $1.36 billion. Atlantic offers service in Pennsylvania, Florida, Maryland, Delaware, and South Carolina — mostly in communities ignored by Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Possible Cogeco acquisition targets include Cable ONE, WOW!, Wave Broadband, SureWest/Consolidated Communications, Midcontinent Communications, Buckeye Cable, and/or Blue Ridge Communications, to name a few.

In the meantime, Cogeco is following the lead of U.S. cable operators by intensifying service expansion in commercial areas, particularly industrial parks and office complexes. Selling larger businesses cable broadband could net Cogeco $600-1,200 a month per account.

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22,000 Bell Small Business Customers Have Their Usernames/Passwords Hacked

nullcrewHackers exploited poor coding practices at an Ottawa-based third-party contractor to access and eventually publish more than 20,000 usernames and passwords of Bell Canada’s small business customers on a website.

Canada’s largest phone company is being criticized for allowing the third-party contractor access to sensitive account information, which became vulnerable after IT workers introduced security holes that bypassed Bell’s own security and encryption systems. Even worse, security experts say, Bell apparently stores customer usernames and passwords in a plain text format, accessible to any hacker.

Bell has refused to comment on the security lapse or its ongoing investigation, but the hackers are talking.

“Nullcrew” claimed responsibility for the breach on Twitter, including screenshots that suggest the group used a well-known SQL (structured query language) exploit that allowed the hackers to fish for information contained in Bell’s database.

Hackers often use automated scripts to hunt sites for security exploits and often don’t know whether they will get a handful of useless data or a treasure trove like Bell’s customer records.

bell badTrustwave Holdings, a security company based in Chicago, Ill., said in a 2013 report that poor coding practices have made the SQL injection attack a threat for more than 15 years.

“Outsourcing IT and business systems saves money only if there’s no attack,” the Trustwave report said. “Many third-party vendors leave the door open for attack, as they don’t necessarily keep client security interests top of mind.”

“Nullcrew’s” attack also discarded any pretense of encouraging clients to use passwords that are easy to remember but hard for others to guess, since Bell stored the data in an easily readable format.

Nullcrew said it alerted Bell to its security lapse more than two weeks before publishing their find online. An additional screenshot showed a Bell online customer service representative perplexed about the hacker group’s claims and likely never passed the information on to Bell’s security department.

Bell suspended the affected passwords over the weekend and is notifying customers about the security breach.

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Consolidation: Financial Sector Wants Bell Canada To Buyout Maritime’s Bell Aliant

bellCanadian investment analysts are recommending that Canada’s telecom giant Bell (BCE) should explore buying out Bell Aliant, Inc. the largest telephone company in the Maritimes, to further consolidate Canada’s telecommunications marketplace.

Bell already effectively controls the phone company serving provinces east of Quebec through its 44 percent stake in the venture. Picking up the rest through a takeover would make financial sense, said Maher Taghi, a telecom analyst at Canada’s Desjardins Securities.

The Globe and Mail reports Yaghi explained in a note to investors a buyout would boost overall free cash flow for Bell (BCE), primarily from the increased revenue paid by customers for phone, television, and Internet service.

Bell_AliantBell Aliant has been one of Canada’s most conservative telecom companies serving the country’s smallest provinces in Atlantic Canada, as well as parts of rural Ontario under the NorthernTel brand and Télébec, which serves rural Quebec.

Unlike Bell (BCE), Bell Aliant has aggressively deployed fiber to the home service in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia to stem landline losses. Bell Aliant’s FiberOP customers avoid stingy usage caps that are pervasive across the rest of Canada. Its fiber network delivers strong competition to cable operators.

Bell (BCE) is already a major player in Canadian telecommunications, both with its landline operation and Fibe — mostly a fiber-to-the-neighborhood service — wireless phone and broadband, owner of more than two dozen specialty cable networks, a satellite TV service, owner of the CTV television network, new owner of Astral Media, and a few dozen radio stations across Canada. With this level of media concentration, Bell (BCE) would have a tough time trying to buy any additional media assets, but with its current de facto control, Bell would likely have little regulatory scrutiny merging Bell Aliant into its existing operations.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bell Aliant FiberOP Intro Video 1-2014.flv

Bell Aliant’s FiberOP introductory video explains the network and its features for Atlantic Canada. (2:20)

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US & Canada Agree: Our Internet Providers Are Bad for Us and We’re Falling Behind

Phillip "Free Trade in Bad Broadband" Dampier

Phillip “Free Trade in Bad Broadband” Dampier

Sure we’ve had our cultural skirmishes in the past,  but on one thing we can all mostly agree: our largest cable, phone, and broadband providers generally suck.

Outside of hockey season, Canada’s national pastime is hating Bell, Rogers, Vidéotron, Telus, and Shaw. The chorus of complaints is unending on overbilling, bundling of dozens of channels almost nobody watches but everybody pays for, outrageous long-term contracts, and bloodsucking Internet overlimit fees. In fact, dissatisfaction is so pervasive, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper spent this past summer waving shiny keys of distraction promising Canadians telecom relief while hoping voters didn’t notice their tax dollars were being spent by the country’s national security apparatus to spy on Brazil for big energy companies.

The Montreal Gazette is now collecting horror stories about dreadful service, mysterious price hikes, and promised credits gone missing on behalf of readers fed up with Bell and Vidéotron.

Rogers Cable, always thoughtful and pleasant, punished a Ottawa man coping with multiple sclerosis and cancer with a $1,288 bill, quickly turned over to a collection agency after his home burned to the ground. It took headlines spread across Ontario newspapers to get the cable company to relent.

Things are no better in the United States where the American Customer Satisfaction Index rates telecom companies worse than the post office, health insurers airlines, and the bird flu. National Public Radio opened the floodgates when it asked listeners to rate their personal satisfaction with their Internet Service Provider — almost always the local cable or telephone company.

The phone company Canadians love to hate.

The phone company Canadians love to hate.

Many responded their Internet access is horribly slow, often goes out, and is hugely overpriced. In response, the cable industry’s hack-in-chief did little more than shrug his shoulders — knowing full well American broadband exists in a cozy monopoly or duopoly in most American cities.

Breann Neal of Hudson, Ill., told NPR she has one choice — DSL, which is much slower than advertised. Hudson is Frontier Communications country, and it is a comfortable area to serve because local cable competition from Mediacom, America’s worst cable company, is miles away from Neal’s home.

“There’s no incentive for them to make it better for us because we’re still paying them every month … and there’s no competition,” Neal says.

Samantha Laws, who gets her Internet through her cable provider, says she also only has one option.

“It goes out at least once a day, and it’s been getting worse the last few months,” Laws says. She works with a pet-sitting company that handles all of its scheduling through email and the company website. At times she can’t do her job because of the unreliable connection.

Chicago is in Comcast’s territory and the company is quite comfortable cashing your check while AT&T takes its sweet time launching U-verse in the Windy City. AT&T isn’t about to throw money at improving DSL while local residents wait for U-verse and Comcast doesn’t need to spend a lot in Chicago when the alternative is AT&T.

comcast sucksWhere there is no disruptive new player in town to shake things up, there is little incentive to speed broadband service up. But there is plenty of room to keep increasing prices for a service that is becoming as important as a working telephone. Companies are using broadband profits to cover increasing losses from pay television service, investing in stock buybacks, paying dividends to shareholders, or just putting the money in a bank, often offshore.

NPR’s All Things Considered:

“[For] at least 77 percent of the country, your only choice for a high-capacity, high-speed Internet connection is your local cable monopoly,” says Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. She is also the author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.

Crawford says that today’s high-speed Internet infrastructure is equivalent to when the railroad lines were controlled by a very few moguls who divided up the country between themselves and gouged everybody on prices.

She says the U.S. has fallen behind other countries in providing broadband. At best, Crawford says, the U.S. is at the middle of the pack and is far below many countries when it comes to fiber optic penetration. Given that the Internet was developed in the U.S., she says the gap is a result of failures in policy.

“These major infrastructure businesses aren’t like other market businesses,” Crawford says. “It is very expensive to install them in the first place, and then they build up enormous barriers of entry around them. It really doesn’t make sense to try to compete with a player like Comcast or Time Warner Cable.”

So Crawford is calling for is a major public works projects to install fiber optic infrastructure — a public grid that private companies could then use to deliver Internet service.

Powell

Powell

That’s an idea met with hand-wringing and concern-trolling Revolving Door Olympian Michael Powell, who made his way from former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission during the first term of George W. Bush’s administration straight into the arms of Big Cable as president of their national trade association, the NCTA.

Powell, well compensated in his new role representing the cable industry, wants Americans to consider wireless 3G and 4G broadband (with usage caps as low as a few hundred megabytes per month) equivalent competitors to the local cable and phone company.

“I think to exclude [wireless] as a substitutable, competitive alternative is an error that leads you to believe the market is substantially more concentrated that it actually is,” Powell says.

Of course, Powell’s new career includes a paycheck large enough to afford the wireless data bills that would shock the rest of us. All that money also apparently blinds him to the reality the two largest wireless providers in America are AT&T and Verizon — the same two companies that are part of the duopoly in wired broadband. It’s even worse in Canada, where Rogers, Bell, and Telus dominate wired and wireless broadband.

Although America isn’t even close to having the fastest broadband speeds, Powell wants you to know the speeds you do get are good enough.

“I think taking a snapshot and declaring us as somehow dangerously falling behind is just not substantiated by the data,” he says. He says it is like taking a snapshot of speed skaters, where there might be a few seconds separating the leaders, but no one is “meaningfully out of the race.”

last placeThat is why we still celebrate and honor Svetlana Radkevich from Belarus who competed in the speed skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. She made it to the finish line and ranked 33rd. Ironically, South Korea ranked fastest overall that year, taking home three gold and two silver medals. In Powell’s world, that’s a distinction without much difference. You don’t need South Korean speed and gold medals when Belarus is enough. That argument always plays well in the United States, where Americans can choose between Amtrak or an airline for a long distance trip. Who needs a non-stop flight when a leisurely train ride will get you there… eventually.

There are a handful of providers uncomfortable with the mediocre broadband slow lane. Google is among them. So are community broadband providers installing fiber broadband and delivering gigabit Internet speeds. EPB in Chattanooga is among them, and it has already made a difference for that city’s digital economy neither AT&T or Comcast could deliver.

Unsurprisingly, Powell thinks community broadband is a really bad idea because private companies are already delivering broadband service — while laughing all the way to the bank.

If a community really wants gold medal broadband, Powell says, they should be able to have it. But Powell conveniently forgets to mention NCTA’s largest members, including Comcast and Time Warner Cable, spend millions lobbying federal and state governments to make publicly owned broadband illegal. After all, cable companies know what is best.

All Things Considered recently asked its fans on Facebook, “How satisfied are you with your Internet service provider?” Many responded that they didn’t like their Internet service, that it often goes out and that their connection was often “painfully slow.” Listen to the full report first aired Jan. 11, 2014. (11:30)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

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NorthwesTel’s Usage Meter Runs Amuck; Company Says “Turn Off Your Computer At Night”

1638.OpenMedia-Internet-meterMore than two dozen NorthwesTel customers in Canada’s north are contemplating a class-action lawsuit against their Internet provider after being charged hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in overlimit charges for phantom traffic nobody can seem to identify.

Kyle Jennex of Whitehorse has always checked his usage, particularly because NorthwesTel charges very high prices for access and has a low usage cap. Running over a plan limit can prove costly at $5 per gigabyte. In November, Jennex discovered NorthwesTel’s usage meter was registering between 5-7GB of mysterious upload traffic every night even after the computer was physically disconnected from his Internet connection.

Despite complaining to NorthwesTel, the company billed him for nearly $1000 in overlimit fees, claiming he exceeded his allowance by nearly 200GB.

“I depend on the Internet for our lifestyle,” Jennex told Yukon News. “We like our music and our movies and our TV, so I download a lot of stuff. I also believe that if I’m paying for 150 gigabytes, I’m going to use that up. So because of that I monitor our usage carefully so I can spread it out throughout the month and to make sure we don’t go over.”

NorthwesTel has never suspected their meter of being responsible for the phantom usage measurements. To Curtis Shaw, NorthwesTel’s vice president of marketing, excess usage is entirely the customer’s responsibility. The company told Jennex his high usage was likely caused by torrent/peer-to-peer network traffic or a neighbor who had hacked into his password-protected Wi-Fi network. But neither explanation can account for usage that continued to rack up with nothing connected to his Internet modem.

Shaw recommends NorthwesTel customers shut down their computers when not in use, particularly overnight, to avoid excess charges. He also advises customers to change their passwords, regularly check usage, and install and update anti-virus software on their computers.

badbill

Bill Shock

Shaw also says users can sign up for e-mail that notifies customers when they approach their limit, “really to protect people from receiving a surprise bill.” He adds the company does monitor customer usage and has called customers in the past when their accounts show an unusual amount of activity.

But NorthwesTel didn’t bother to call a customer in Whitehorse who reports he was billed an extra $990 for the extra 198GB of usage he claims he never used. Nor did the company call the woman in the Northwest Territories bill shocked with $3,000 in overlimit fees in a single month.

The company says there have been repeated cases of neighbors “sharing” Wi-Fi connections which can quickly run up usage. But Jennex, who says he well understands the danger of unprotected Wi-Fi, believes he has taken the necessary precautions and has been overbilled anyway.

“The way they’re talking, it’s like every second neighbor is hacking into your wireless,” Jennex said. “I have passwords that are completely random that would take some pretty sophisticated equipment to hack into. We even tried disconnecting all our devices from the router and it still kept happening. The only way I could get them to stop was to physically unplug my modem.”

The company cannot or will not trace Jennex’s mysterious web traffic to identify the source, confident their meter is accurate. Besides, the company says, customers often underestimate the amount of traffic they consume using file sharing programs or watching video online. The company claims it worked hard on its usage meter and it received industry approval for its high degree of accuracy. But providers need not submit their meters for independent verification or subject them to periodic audits to verify meter accuracy.

NorthwesTel does not have a good record on meter accuracy. In 2010 the company was forced to admit it had overbilled hundreds of customers over a “meter glitch” when usage monitors were not reset. As a result, customers found enormous overlimit fees attached to their bills. In one example, a customer was charged a $2,500 overlimit fee on top of his usual bill of $88.

cctsA glitch may indeed be part of the problem as one Yukon customer successfully confronted NorthwesTel for erroneous overlimit fees for consumption of data that was impossible to accrue at the speed of his Internet connection.

Angry customers complain that with so little competition, NorthwesTel has every incentive to play fast and loose with its meter, either because customers will cut their usage, upgrade to a higher cost tier with a bigger allowance, or pay the overlimit fees.

Customers who believe they were unjustly billed overlimit fees should take their case first to the Office of the President. Failing that, they should appeal to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, an independent agency that has a good track record of winning relief.

Some customers fear the expensive overlimit fees so much, they are following NorthwesTel’s advice and keeping their computers switched off when not being used, but that isn’t a good enough answer for Jennex, who plans to continue the fight.

“There’s no need to rip us off because we live so far North,” he told CBC North.

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