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the money just dribbles away

According to Northwestel, between midnight and 5 a.m. Friday morning, my family of four downloaded 1.

According to Northwestel, between midnight and 5 a.m. Friday morning, my family of four downloaded 1.1 gigabytes worth of data.

This is roughly equivalent to 3.5 hours of compressed video - almost seven episodes of the Big Bang Theory.

This happened while we slept. Computers off. Portable phones charging. Network encrypted.

How? Well, that’s a good question. One that we simply can’t answer. We will, eventually, just have to pay.

It’s up to you to prove Northwestel’s counter is wonky. And how can you do that? Technically, it is difficult if not impossible. And, in the end, someone might simply be tapping your encrypted network, right?

Midmonth, with more than 20 gigs of bandwidth remaining, it is no big deal. But if you bleed 1.5 gigs a day for the next 15, you’re suddenly talking money.

When a customer passes their monthly limit, each gigabyte of bandwidth costs a ridiculous $7.50.

In most places, it is free, or close to it.

So the bandwidth counter used by Northwestel is highly questionable. The whole system is policed by the very people selling the service.

You should know, there are no standards when it comes to measuring bandwidth.

How is it measured? How accurate is the meter Northwestel uses to gauge your internet use? How is it done? What is it based on? What information is monitored? What is retained?

I bet you don’t know. And this should make you nervous.

As well, there is no national agency monitoring the telecoms, ensuring there’s a common standard of measure across the country. Internet lies outside federal review.

There’s just that ticker, three hours out of date, that, magically, determines your use.

The telco sets it up. And uses it to bill you each month.

But it doesn’t have to say how it works.

The electricity you use is monitored and based on an agreed-upon federal standard.

The gas you pump into your car is also based on a national standard, corrected to some pre-determined temperature.

The scales you use to weigh your green peppers and mushrooms at the grocery store are based on national standards.

In all cases, you know how much it costs per measure.

And, if they have been monkeyed with, you can lodge a complaint with a federal agency.

Not so with the internet. It is not policed.

Customers just have to trust that the whole system, set up by the people profiting from its use, is accurate and fair.

And that’s the back end. There are also plenty of hidden costs on the front end.

There’s no way to tell how much bandwidth you are using at any one time.

Now, in most Canadian jurisdictions, that’s just fine because the monthly caps are high and the overage costs are minimal - approaching free, like cable TV used to be.

Not so in Northwestel’s region.

Here, where every bit of data costs you something, the game is different.

Customers don’t know how much that Acura ad just ate up when loading the Globe and Mail website.

And they also don’t know how much that latest episode of Castle, streamed from, cost either - there’s no measure. But, rest assured, it’s costing you something.

If you watch a HD video on Apple TV, what is the size of the download? You probably don’t know, because it is not given. But the size determines the cost because each gigabyte used in the Yukon is valued at a whopping $7.50. If you are near or over your limit, that movie could cost you almost $40.

Naturally enough, it makes it difficult to watch video online without becoming nervous.

You are better off paying for cable, yet another service. And who owns the cable TV biz? Northwestel, a division of Bell Canada, which owns one of the two largest satellite TV services in the North.

You get the picture.

There is a need for more transparency in the delivery of internet service.

If Northwestel is going to charge exorbitant fees, it should be able to prove, up to the minute, how much you’re using.

At the very least, you shouldn’t have to worry about how much of your precious bandwidth is simply bleeding away while you sleep.