EDITORIAL: Take a second look at your Internet bill

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Was it too good to be true? Northwestel heralded its new faster and cheaper Internet plan for Nunavut last month, and early reports indicate it may be faster but the claim to be cheaper is up for debate.

The speed of the Internet service tripled to 15Gbps, and company’s top package went from 60GB per month for $179 to 100GB per month for $129. It sounds promising.

(Northwestel is only available for now in a handful of communities, including the capital, but will expand to all communities next year.)

And yet Northwestel continues to fail to solve the problem eternally discussed among users – why are users always exceeding bandwidth quotas, after which they have to pay per GB?

This is the third time in three years the top bandwidth quota has increased – to 50GB in 2016, 60GB in 2017, and now 100GB – and yet with each increase, users have found themselves hitting the mark or exceeding it each month. The result is bills exceeding the expected fee.

There has always been an element of user responsibility in this – we started using bandwidth monitors on our computers and turned off automatic software updates to good effect – and yet users have also had a suspicion that they were not responsible for the overage.

This time, all evidence points in favour of the user.

Only days after the new packages came into effect Oct. 1, a big windstorm hit southern Baffin Island, knocking out power and Internet for many users. Despite this, users found their Internet services hurtling toward the quota. One user, an Iqaluit city councillor, wasn’t even in the territory and somehow used half of his monthly quota in a matter of days.

The storm knocked down the wire connecting one family to the Internet, and yet their quota continued to deplete. It defies explanation.
And yet the company – owned by Canada’s biggest telecom, Bell – shifted blame to the user and ignored complaints, even hanging up on the user who raised the concern. After we published our story about this online, Northwestel said it was looking at each case individually.

It’s not enough. Northwestel benefits from federal backing to bolster its wiring of the North, and has an advantage in the market as a result. This position means they have a greater responsibility to shed light on the workings of their systems, and to explain how disconnected users can be billed for services they didn’t use. This trust needs to be rebuilt, especially as it looks to become the dominant player territory-wide in the next year.

Despite its size and power, Nunavummiut have other options, including Qiniq, Xplornet, Ice Wireless, and Meshnet in Iqaluit. As the Internet gets faster in Nunavut, Nunavummiut demand more from its service providers, and pinning technical issues on users is no longer acceptable.

To users, check your bills, check your data, and make sure you are billed only for the services you use.

To Northwestel, do better. Check the bills, check the data, and bill only for the services you provide.