Internet bill likened to mob racket

Greg Ducharme's internet bill for September is $2,500. His August bill is for $1,397.56.

Greg Ducharme’s internet bill for September is $2,500.

His August bill is for $1,397.56. Together, they total nearly $4,000.

Ducharme’s monthly cable internet bill from Northwestel is usually only $88.15.

The exorbitant fees came as a big shock. The Porter Creek resident had never knowingly come close to exceeding his usage cap – doing so results in big fines.

Ducharme has an automatic payment plan with Northwestel, so he hadn’t noticed either of the fees until this week.

“This is like organized-crime rates of interest,” he said.

At first, Ducharme suspected his 14-year old son had gone on a video-downloading spree. But he hadn’t.

Nor did Ducharme make the mistake of leaving his wireless router without a password. “That would be stupid,” he said.

But it’s a common mistake. From Ducharme’s kitchen, his Apple laptop is able to detect more than a dozen wireless hotspots. Several, he’s noticed, are unlocked.

That means anyone with a computer could use those internet connections to download videos and other high-volume items, unbeknownst to unprotected internet subscribers.

So Ducharme wonders whether Northwestel simply screwed up and overbilled him. He’s complained. In response, a company representative phoned back and said they’re investigating the matter.

Until it’s resolved, they’re only asking him to pay his usual monthly fee. But none of the fees have yet been waived.

It’s also possible that a hacker broke into Ducharme’s router. Give a geek enough time and they’ll find software that can crack the code of all but the priciest router.

Ducharme’s “big beef” with the company is that it never bothered to contact him, following such wild spikes in his internet usage. Credit card companies alert customers when they notice spending irregularities. He doesn’t understand why Northwestel doesn’t, too.

“The fact that, after two months, they would not cut me off or at least give a phone call is criminal.”

In fact, the company recently began offering a service that automatically e-mails customers who are close to exceeding their bandwidth limits. But the service isn’t well advertised, and Ducharme had never heard of it.

And other customers have recently complained to the News that this service is unreliable, at times warning that bandwidth is nearly used up when it isn’t, and other times providing no warning before monthly caps are exceeded.

Customers are also able to check online how much of their monthly data allowance they’ve used. But, as Ducharme notes, this service is a hassle to use. To do so, you need to copy “25 numbers off the back of your router.

“You can’t make it any more difficult,” he said.

And in Ducharme’s case, he had no reason to suspect he was near exceeding his monthly limit until it was too late.

Adding sting to the matter is the fact that Northwestel has no shortage of bandwidth, said Ducharme. Like others, he suspects the company is needlessly stingy.

Ducharme would switch internet providers, if he could. But Northwestel enjoys a monopoly over the service, so that’s not an option.

Contact John Thompson at