Hotels hit with huge bills

When Rich Thompson saw his July Northwestel bill, the hotelier almost fell over. His extra-use charges for internet were “in the thousands of dollars,” said the Northern Vision CEO.

When Rich Thompson saw his July Northwestel bill, the hotelier almost fell over.

His extra-use charges for internet were “in the thousands of dollars,” said the Northern Vision CEO.

Thompson runs the Gold Rush Inn and the High Country Inn, and the internet bills at both hotels had jumped “five or six times above normal levels,” starting in July.

“It just came out of the blue,” said Thompson.

“And we don’t know why.”

Trying to decipher the bills, and the reasons for the exorbitant charges, was next to impossible, he added.

“From what I gather, there was no advice warning us there was going to be a change” in billing, said Thompson.

“We were just suddenly billed the extra amount.”

The hotel business runs on pretty tight margins, he said. And to keep costs under control Thompson wants “reliable quality (internet) service and a stable operating environment.”

Getting a bill for thousands of dollars, when bills are usually in the hundreds-of-dollars range, is “a shock to the system,” said Thompson.

As a business owner, he was “not very happy” with the Yukon’s internet service to start with.

It’s “not the greatest,” he said, and then “to get an unexpected charge of this magnitude ….”

Plus, “the billing system is not understandable.”

Thompson has requested a meeting with Northwestel.

But nothing has been set up yet.

“In the past they’ve been good at listening and acting on our concerns,” he said.

Northwestel couldn’t explain the sudden jump in Thompson’s bills.

“It could be attributed to the same reasons anyone would see a jump in their bills,” said spokesperson Anne Kennedy.

“And it might be usage patterns – with the summer we see a jump in tourists.”

But if the swell of summer customers is the reason for the high bills, it will get even worse in the winter, said Thompson.

“That’s when we get more business travellers,” who rely on the internet for work.

If there are hoteliers in town who have issues with billing, “I recommend they contact their account manager,” said Kennedy.

Roughly 75 per cent of the Yukon’s internet users don’t come close to their maximum allowable usage, she added.

And Northwestel just created new online tools to allow users to monitor their internet usage, with alarms that sound.

But if clients do go over their allowable gigabytes, the charge increases tenfold.

If a plan offers clients 60 gigs for $60, that’s $1 a gig. But if they exceed that, each additional gig suddenly costs $10.

The charges are high to “keep people within their range and stop abuse,” said Kennedy.

Northwestel has plenty of bandwidth to go around, “but the more you make available, the more people will use,” she said.

“And we are not a publicly funded highway corridor.

“We have to make a return on our investment.”

Northwestel is subsidized to run its northern telephone operations. But the fibre-optic cable running to the territory was paid for almost entirely by the company.

“And we have to show due diligence to our investors,” said Kennedy.

Bell Canada Enterprises owns Northwestel.

“People have to pay us back,” she said.

“We can’t just give (internet) away.”