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Cogeco Unveils DOCSIS 3 Upgrades in Niagara Falls, St. Catherines, Ont.

Phillip Dampier October 18, 2011 Broadband Speed, Canada, Cogeco, Internet Overcharging 1 Comment

Cogeco customers in the Niagara Region watching their neighbors further north in Hamilton and Toronto enjoy faster broadband service can finally obtain faster Internet access from incumbent cable provider Cogeco, who this week unveiled three new faster speed packages in Niagara Falls and St. Catherines.

Cogeco’s Turbo 20, Ultimate 30 and Ultimate 50 High Speed Internet packages are all powered by DOCSIS 3 upgrades, which allow cable operators to bond multiple “channels” together to deliver faster Internet speeds.

Unfortunately, while download speeds of up to 50Mbps can be enticing, Cogeco’s upload speeds, even on their DOCSIS 3 network, are downright stingy.  Thanks to Cogeco’s relentless Internet Overcharging schemes, so are the usage caps.  The Turbo 20 package tops out at 20/1.5Mbps and offers only 80GB of included traffic.  After that, pony up $1.50/GB, up to a maximum of $50 in overlimit penalties.

The Ultimate 30 package includes 30/2Mbps with 175GB of data transfer capacity.  The Ultimate 50 pack delivers 50/2Mbps service with a 250GB cap.  But customers entranced with the extra speed should watch their wallets.  Cogeco’s overlimit fee is $1/GB on these packages with no maximum limit on those charges.

At least Cogeco is satisfied with their newest offer.

“We always strive to offer our customers more flexibility, speed and choices. Today, the whole family can use the Internet at the same time for online banking, video gaming, shopping or for downloading videos or films, and all with the same service. Cogeco’s HSI packages Turbo 20, Ultimate 30 and Ultimate 50 meet those needs perfectly,” said Ron Perrotta, vice president, Marketing and Strategic Planning.

The new Turbo 20 package is currently on promotion and offered for $44.95 per month for 12 months for customers who also subscribe to Cogeco’s Television and/or Home phone services, and for $54.95 per month for 12 months for those who only want to subscribe to the High Speed Internet service. Turbo 20’s regular price is $49.95 if bundled with other Cogeco services and $59.95 on a standalone basis.

For customers who subscribe to more than one Cogeco service, Ultimate 30 is offered for $59.95 per month and Ultimate 50, for $99.95 per month. Ultimate 30 and Ultimate 50 are also available on a standalone basis for $69.95 and $109.95 respectively.

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Cogeco: Prove Our Usage Meter is Wrong When It Says You Used 36GB Yesterday

Phillip Dampier September 2, 2011 Canada, Cogeco, Internet Overcharging, Public Policy & Gov't 5 Comments

A snake in the grass?

Cogeco customers trying to avoid usage-based overlimit fees are finding that difficult when the cable company’s online usage measurement tool is offline or misreads their usage.  But the real trouble comes when customers find themselves arguing over wild usage measurements with Cogeco’s customer service representatives, who believe their meter is sacrosanct.

Two Ontario customers report Cogeco’s meter is registering some wild usage numbers this week — measurements those customers say count against their monthly usage allowance, drive them into overlimit fees, or force them to try and convince Cogeco employees they didn’t use as much as the company claims they did.

Take “Jubenvi,” a Cogeco customer in Sarnia.  His efforts to check on his usage through Cogeco’s online measurement tool was an exercise in futility until Monday, when Cogeco claimed he used 36GB of usage the day before.

“Not a chance,” he argues on Broadband Reports‘ Cogeco customer forum.  “No warnings either and [the tool] says I’m at 153 percent [of my allowance].”

That means one thing: overlimit penalty fees of $1/GB + HST.

“Ya, I won’t be paying that,” he declares.

Petawawa customer RJBrake also found last Sunday a “heavy traffic day” for him as well, at least according to Cogeco’s usage meter.

“This is completely stupid,” he shared. “There’s no way I downloaded 14GB in a day.”

Jubenvi called Cogeco to complain and to demand the overlimit charges be waived for usage he never actually used.

That opened the door to a customer service investigation which could send shivers up some customers’ spines.  Cogeco tracks customer usage over several months, and claimed Jubenvi‘s past usage regularly exceeded their arbitrary usage allowance, so it’s a safe bet he downloaded 36GB in a single day.

Unwilling to concede their meter might be inaccurate, a representative issued a one-time “loyal customer courtesy credit.”

Surprise! Nearly 15GB of usage last Sunday, whether you used it or not.

Jubenvi was unimpressed with small favors.

“She [said] that a few times a month, someone in [my] family rents a few movies from iTunes store, [but] never 36GB a day,” Jubenvi explains.  “I [wondered aloud] what if this happens again and [asked] why I didn’t receive any 85% and 100% [usage allowance] warnings.”

Cogeco didn’t have answers for either question, content on placing the blame entirely at the feet of the customer.

“She just goes into how I should upgrade my computer — it could have a virus, [and] make sure I’m not using Netflix,” he says.

Unfortunately, Canadian ISP usage meters are largely unregulated.  A Hamilton customer notes:

The CRTC along with Weights and Measures Canada won’t do anything to help you. I along with others here have already tried to file complaints about Cogeco’s usage meter and they both say that this doesn’t follow under there pervue of duties.

At the moment we are on our own and I don’t see anyone that’s going to help us until an MP or a Court get involved in this situation. I personally think that some time after Oct. 1 when there is no [longer a maximum cap on overlimit fees] for the Ultimate 30 and 50Mbps customers, someone is going to get hacked and get a huge bill and then lawyers and the news media will then find this topic interesting.

Anyone that’s on an Ultimate 30 or 50Mbps account could easily download anywhere from 60GB to over 100GB’s a day. It’s simple. I can grab 1GB worth of data in under 10 minutes on my Ultimate 30 connection so multiply that by 24 hours and you get 72GB.

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Cogeco Customers Pay for Company’s European Mess: Rate Hikes Sooth Portuguese Write-Off

Cogeco Cable customers are about to pay for the company’s tragic financial results from its Portuguese operations in the form of broad-based price increases the company is selling as service “improvements.”

July’s financial results for Cogeco, which owns cable systems in Ontario, Quebec, and Portugal, are not good.  With mass subscriber defections and downgrades from Cogeco’s Portuguese cable system Cabovisao, company officials have decided to write off their European investment, resulting in a $56.7 million loss in the third quarter.

Tempering the damage is the company’s decision to raise broadband prices for Canadian customers by $2 a month for their Standard broadband package, soon to be priced at $48.95.

(Courtesy: 'Gone' from Fort Erie, Ontario)

“To add insult to injury, they are calling these changes ‘improvements,’” writes Stop the Cap! reader Claudette, who is a Cogeco customer in Ontario.  “In fact, the only thing Cogeco is improving is their skill at overcharging us.”

Cogeco's financial mess in Portugal.

Cogeco has sent letters to subscribers notifying them about the “improvements,” mostly in the form of a name change for the company’s ‘Standard’ plan, soon to be renamed ‘Turbo 14.’  They have also launched a new section on their website to break down the changes.

The only benefit Cogeco is introducing for customers with their Standard plan is a slight bump in usage allowances, from 60 to 80GB.  But that change comes with a major catch.  Cogeco charges customers a $1.50/GB overlimit fee with a monthly maximum overcharge of $30.  When ‘Turbo 14′ premieres Oct. 1, the maximum overlimit fee will jump to $50 a month.

“That is a total ripoff, because the next plan up with bigger allowances — just over 100GB a month — costs nearly $77 a month, for a whopping 16Mbps,” she adds.  “They just raised our rates last July and now they want more.”

Cogeco is punishing their premium customers even more by taking the maximum overlimit fee cap completely off their DOCSIS 3-based Ultimate 30Mbps and 50Mbps plans.  Available in some Cogeco service areas at prices of $60 and $100 a month respectively, the plans come with usage limits of 175-250GB.  The sky is the limit for overlimit fees, racked up at $1 per gigabyte.

Cogeco customers are outraged, and have begun shopping for alternatives, just like their counterparts in Portugal who have put their cable service on the chopping block.

The ongoing Portuguese financial crisis has been met with tax increases and benefit reductions by the government, and Portuguese consumers have responded with wholesale cord-cutting, cancelling Cabovisao cable-TV service in droves.

Cogeco's systems in Ontario (click to enlarge)

“You now have customers squarely opting out of [cable TV],” said Louis Audet, Cogeco’s president and chief executive officer. “These are economic circumstances that we have not, nor has anyone here, witnessed in North America. These are very unique to the circumstances in Portugal.”

At least Audet hopes they are.

With fewer competitive choices in the rural and suburban Ontario and Quebec markets Cogeco favors, consumers have a tougher time finding alternative providers, but not an impossible one.  Many are dropping Cogeco’s phone and broadband packages, moving to Voice Over IP or cell phone service for the former, and independent broadband providers like TekSavvy for the latter.  TekSavvy still retains unlimited use plans and has been traditionally more generous with allowances for the usage-based plans the company also sells.

Investors have been placated with a boost in Cogeco’s dividend payout… for now.  But many have adopted a “told you so” attitude about the company’s controversial decision to invest in overseas cable to begin with.

Scotia Capital analyst Jeff Fan said he had a negative view about Cogeco’s Portuguese venture.

“We hope this paves the way for a sale,” he wrote in a note to investors, “as Portugal is still cash-flow negative and dilutes the strong Canadian results.”

In fact, many investor groups dream of an even bigger sale — of Cogeco itself.

Joseph MacKay of Mackie Research said Canada’s fourth-largest cable company is ripe for a takeover by a larger cable operator, presumably Rogers or Shaw Communications.  Rogers already blankets Ontario with cable services, so Cogeco’s operations in eastern provinces would be a ‘natural fit’ for the company.  Shaw’s interest in expanding eastward could also get a boost from the buyout of Cogeco.

But one significant roadblock remains — the controlling interests of the Audet family, which have no intention of selling and control enough voting shares to stymie a hostile takeover.  In fact, despite the poor showing of the company’s Portuguese operations, the Audet family claims to be interested in acquiring other providers and expanding Cogeco’s size.

With the benefit of a two-dollar rate increase and the proceeds of Internet Overcharging, they’ll be in a position to put more dollars toward that goal.

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“Trust Us”: Cogeco’s Usage “Gas Gauge” Great For Measuring Profits, Not So Good for Measuring Actual Usage

Phillip Dampier August 24, 2009 Canada, Cogeco, Internet Overcharging No Comments

Broadband Reports this morning revisited Cogeco, the Canadian cable company that engages in Internet Overcharging, but relies on a usage-measurement gauge that customers say can be off from dozens to hundreds of megabytes every day.  Stop the Cap! also reported on this issue in June, with customers outraged that their monthly bill’s accuracy depends on a tool that is very good at making the company extra money, but not so good at fairly measuring actual usage.  The problems continue.

It’s ironic that the electric meter outside of Cogeco headquarters is subject to verification, the gas pump dispensing fuel to Cogeco’s service trucks is audited by Measurement Canada, which also verifies the accuracy of the scale used by the grocery store deli to weigh the meat for the submarine sandwiches purchased by some of their employees.  What isn’t audited, much less independently verified, is Cogeco’s usage measurement tool.

Cogeco customers have resorted to installing their own third party monitoring tools, from built-in traffic measurement in some routers to software applications that they run on their computers.  Thus far, reports of serious discrepancies have caused an indefinite delay before Cogeco actually begins billing overlimit fees and penalties, but many customers are asking why they have to resort to checking up on Cogeco in the first place.

One Toronto resident can’t understand it:  “Since when do customers in this country have to validate a business billing system?   Customers should be assured of fair and accurate billing under the law in Canada. I see a lot of legal challenges coming for this.”

Cogeco customers note the discrepancies will add up — to Internet Overcharges:

“Ever since I slapped Tomato [third party firmware] onto my router and started monitoring my [usage], Cogeco has constantly been anywhere from 20mb to 700mb off every day,” complains one user. “Any discrepancy is unacceptable with their outrageous overage charges,” the user adds. “Twenty five to thirty gigabytes is the difference between paying fifty dollars a month for your Internet or eighty dollars a month,” says another, adding that the problems are “unacceptable.”

As Karl Bode notes in his story, whether the meter works right or not, the customer will still be expected to pay in the end.

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Cogeco Follows Rogers: Introduces New “Ultimate HSI” Package for $149 a Month… With 150GB Cap

Phillip Dampier July 14, 2009 Canada, Cogeco, Internet Overcharging 2 Comments

cogecoCogeco Cable, which serves customers in parts of Ontario and Quebec, today announced the launch of the “HSI Ultimate” broadband tier offering 50Mbps download speed and 1.5Mbps upload speed.

For customers in Burlington, Oakville, Milton, and Halton, Ontario, the HSI Ultimate package is available today for $144.95 a month with a cable or telephone bundle, $149.95 without, with a monthly allowance of 150GB, which equals $1/GB. The company throws in free cable modem rental and a security software suite.

Cogeco's Ultimate HSI Service Map - Service First in Communities Southwest of Toronto (click to enlarge)

Cogeco's Ultimate HSI Service Map - Service First in Communities Southwest of Toronto (click to enlarge)

Within five years, Cogeco expects to roll out the service throughout its service areas in Quebec and Ontario thanks to DOCSIS 3 upgrades, which permit cable operators to better manage bandwidth and create new tiers based on speed.

Company officials said in a statement that DOCSIS 3.0 is a technology of data compression that will allow a more efficient and economical bandwidth. Thus, Cogeco Cable will better meet the increasing bandwidth at a competitive cost; give access to a higher data rate, a better video configuration and an increased level of safety.

“This new internet package shows our constant concern to improve our network to satisfy our customers. They can benefit from a more efficient service. With technological advancement, we can offer better access to downstream and upstream Internet, which allows customers to take advantage of applications, available on Internet, more easily,” said Ron Perrotta, Vice President Marketing, Cogeco Cable.

Early customer reaction was negative, because of the pricing and the paltry usage allowance.

“Garbage. Cap is too low to make 50mbps useful,” said one Trenton reader on Broadband Reports’ Cogeco forum. “If my math is correct here you can blow through your 150gb cap in 6.83 hours. That’s a ridiculously short amount of time.”

“I know they are just following suit [with Rogers Cable], but $149.95/month is pretty expensive,” wrote one reader in St. Catharines.

Another questioned the mentality of Cogeco for offering an expensive, but highly limited broadband package: “Cogeco execs are disturbingly out of touch.”

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Broadband Reports Exposes Cogeco Internet Overcharging Nightmare: ‘Their ‘Meter’ Doesn’t Work!’

Phillip Dampier June 24, 2009 Cogeco, Internet Overcharging 10 Comments

"As you can see I'm only at 26.35% and (Cogeco's) notification says I'm at 85% (of my allowance)?" (click to enlarge)

“You can trust us, we’re the cable company!”

One major implication of Internet Overcharging schemes is putting your faith in an industry that already strains credulity when it comes to justifying rationing and price gouging your Internet access.

Back in April, we raised the issue of  “meters” and “gas gauges” being used to measure customer usage having absolutely no oversight or verification that the “readings” they were providing actually represented your usage.

Our concerns were justified.

Broadband Reports has been tracking Cogeco customers finding their own measurements completely at odds with the Canadian cable operator that often reports far different numbers.

In the end, whose “meter” will Cogeco trust?  Theirs of course.

Here are some Cogeco customers sharing their frustrations:

“Well today is Friday the 19th of June and the Monitor is still down and with this being the month that we have to pay you would think the system would be up and working properly. I have a strange feeling that come some time next month people are going to open there bills and see extra charges that shouldn’t be there and Cogeco is going to end up losing a bunch of customers.”

“I don’t understand how they can charge for overages if they can’t properly meter their services.”

“Mine is showing 0 for both upload and download for the past 4 days. Then again I am not going to complain about it not reporting my usage. I kinda hope it stays this way.”

“Here’s a direct quote from my overage email received on Friday: “You have reached 100% of your Internet usage monthly limit. You have reached the MAXIMUM of your Internet usage monthly limit. Additional usage charges will be credited this month. Charges for additional usage will not take effect until June 2009.  I also show 40GB of usage on June 1st while each day after shows normal daily habits. Good job Cogeco. Combined with the increased rate for the Pro package, your overage charges are already forcing me to consider other tv and internet providers.”

“I think what this might do is force users to suck down every byte of their Cap to use their connection to the fullest. Before you never cared, because you could always just get what you wanted, when you wanted. But now since its monitored I know I am going to make sure that take full advantage every month.”

“Not showing any bandwidth for the past 3 days – how can Cogeco prove the authenticity of the meter? Bull.”

“This is exactly what I was thinking. Three days without any change to the meter, and I am supposed to pay for this?”

“This morning, it is telling me am I at 92%… there’s no way I did almost 12 GB of transfer yesterday. What is up with this thing? At this rate, I’m going to probably have to fork over some $$ for extra bandwidth this month, but I’m really wondering how accurate this thing is.”

“I called in to see what I’m at for the month, the rep said 68GB – monitor showing 105GB with 4 blank days. Who the hell is right?”

“First time I pay an overage I’m canceling.”

“Even if these are not governed by Weights and Measurements Canada, there would be a lawsuit for billing on services not rendered.  I’m paying for 100GB, and being overbilled at 23GB. Breach of contract, fraud, take your pick.”

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Cogeco Wants $2.50/GB in Overlimit Fees – The Gravy Train Rides On North of the Border

Paul-Andre Dechêne June 23, 2009 Canada, Cogeco, Internet Overcharging 6 Comments

canadaflagCogeco, following in the footsteps of Rogers, Canada’s largest cable operator, has mailed letters home to residential subscribers informing them that their new Internet Overcharging scheme and fees are real and will apply to broadband accounts that exceed their arbitrary usage allowances.  Since the spring, Cogeco has been showing the Internet Overcharges on subscriber’s bills, but not actually billing them.  That is set to change, however, and many residents in Ontario and Quebec are quite upset.

“Cogeco can bite me. As soon as I manage to scrounge up a second DSL modem I’m gone.”

“I’m waiting for the Cogeco trolls to come out of the woodwork so they can claim how competitive and affordable that plan is.”

“I am starting to hate Cogeco very much, I am tempted to cancel my internet and my digital TV service for spite.”

“Vote with your wallets guys, I did. And now with the increase I’m going to cancel my HD access and return the receiver – enough is enough. I’ll be down to Basic Digital Cable and if they keep increasing prices, that will go too.”

“Ditto! Price increase is THE LAST STRAW for this 10 year + customer!”

Cogeco’s limits also come with overlimit fees that are particularly harsh on casual and power users.  In Canada, many overlimit fees are currently capped at a maximum amount, and do not continue to increase beyond that maximum.  Lite users face a $2.50/GB overlimit fee (maximum $30), despite representing almost no usage impact on Cogeco’s network, and “Pro” users face a $1/GB overlimit fee, but face a maximum of $50 in overlimit penalties, despite paying a much higher up-front monthly subscription fee.

In a nutshell,

  • Lite – 10GB/mo bitcap – $2.50 per GB over to a maximum of $30
  • Lite Plus – 20GB/mo bitcap – $2.00 per GB over to a maximum of $30
  • Standard – 60GB/mo bitcap – $1.50 per GB over to a maximum of $30
  • Pro – 100GB/mo bitcap – $1.00 per GB over to a maximum of $50

Broadband providers in the United States always promise that if they are permitted to introduce Internet Overcharging schemes, it will be “fairer” for all customers, because “heavy users should pay more for what lighter users don’t do.” Providers also typically allude to network improvements and no widespread price increases.

But as Canadians have already discovered, big telecommunications firms operating with virtual duopolies can have their cake and eat it too.

Cogeco customers now face the prospects of classic Internet Overcharging — usage allowances, overlimit fees and penalties, and “fair pricing,” but after the company implemented these schemes, consumers got a reminder of what cable operators like Cogeco are also capable of — widespread rate hiking.

New Rates: We’re improving our services so you’ll continue the best today and in the future (effective July 17, 2009):

Internet Pricing

Standard – With TV or Phone…..current rate: $44.95……new rate: $45.95

Standard – Standalone……..current rate: $52.95………..new rate: $54.95

Pro – With TV or Phone……..current rate: $69.95………..new rate: $76.95

Pro – Standalone……………..current rate: $74.95………..new rate: $81.95

Internet Overchargers like Cogeco consider “fair share” to mean giving an equal amount of dollars from yourself to them.  That’s fair, right?

It’s simply more evidence to this universal truth, a fact of life every North American should already know:

Cable bills never decrease, they only increase, unless you drop services.

When a cable company tells you they have a plan to guarantee “fairness,” be sure to remember what represents “fairness” to you may mean something entirely different to them.

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Cogeco Offers Unlimited WiFi to iPhone/iPod Owners in Toronto for $5 Month

Paul-Andre Dechêne June 23, 2009 Canada, Cogeco, Internet Overcharging, Wireless Broadband No Comments

wifi Canada is a victim of Internet Overcharging, with virtually every major provider limiting access to broadband, throttling speeds, and charging overlimit penalties for exceeding arbitrary limits. Now Cogeco, which itself engages in these schemes for its residential broadband service, has made a breakthrough of sorts.

Cogeco One Zone, available only to users of Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch, provides 802.11g WiFi across the One Zone WiFi network for only $5CAD a month. One Zone, acquired last August from Toronto Hydro Telecom, operates within a six kilometre region in the downtown core of Toronto. Users discovering the service report it can achieve speeds of up to 7Mbps, and there are no data consumption limits or contracts.

Any iPhone/iPod Touch user who accesses the network within range will automatically be taken to a special sign-up page to begin service. Cogeco One Zone’s offer represents a major discount off the pricing being charged to other One Zone WiFi users:

One-Zone_Coverage_Map 1 Hour
60 minutes of continuous access
$4.99 + GST and PST

1 Day
24 hours of continuous access
$9.99 + GST and PST

1 Month
Continuous access to same date in following month
$29.00 + GST and PST

(All prices are in Canadian Dollars)

So why has Cogeco decided to practically give away the service?

“Our expectation is that users won’t be using it for downloading video and huge files … It’s just the nature of the device. It’s not likely they’ll be downloading gigabytes of information standing on the street,” Cogeco Data Services president Ian Collins told itWorldCanada.

One potential use Collins may not realize has been among Toronto residents who live and work within range of the network. For some of them, Cogeco One Zone is being used from work and home, and although it is unlikely to replace residential broadband accounts that connect with home computers, some users will give the network a real workout. Should customers figure out how to tether their iPhone WiFi connection to their home computer, effectively accessing the network from a home PC or laptop, that could become an entirely new challenge.

For Canadian iPhone owners, who already face higher prices for iPhone data plans (no “unlimited” plan exists in Canada as it does in the United States), the biggest savings may come from customers downgrading data plans for “phone-based” data, because they rely on the WiFi network instead. Most iPhone owners currently pay $30 per month for 1GB or $25 for 500MB. With unlimited access through WiFi, there are no worries about exceeding data allowances.

Knowledgeable iPod Touch owners could also turn their players into Voice Over IP telephone lines using Skype or Truphone, and effectively pay just a few dollars per month for unlimited long distance calling.

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