Northwestel can’t count

Eric Zalitis started his day with terrible news from Northwestel. "They told me I owed $645," said Zaltis, a retired RCMP officer who lives in Dawson City.

Eric Zalitis started his day with terrible news from Northwestel.

“They told me I owed $645,” said Zaltis, a retired RCMP officer who lives in Dawson City.

When he checked his usage on the company’s website, it showed he had used almost 100 gigabytes of data last month.

He fired off an angry email to the telco, and when he checked again a couple hours later everything was back to normal – his bill read zero.

This is the third time that Zaltis has had this problem.

And he’s not the only one.

More than 700 Northwestel customers were erroneously sent emails yesterday telling them that they had gone over their bandwidth caps.

“The notification service sent out some incorrect usage amounts to some DSL customers, but it’s not impacting customers’ usage amounts or their billing,” said Sunny Patch, communications manager for Northwestel.

People who have had this problem can contact Northwestel by phone, and reports are available on their website, said Patch.

That’s a process that Zaltis has been through before.

“You call Northwestel and they start blaming everyone in the family,” he said “We have a secure wireless, we have their firewalls and everything and we still got the problems.”

Some customers have started to measure their internet usage with software programs and found Northwestel’s numbers don’t add up.

“They said we used 45 gigs in March but, according to our software, we only used 18,” said Northwestel customer Randy Whitton.

Two months ago Whitton installed a program called Networx on all of his home computers to monitor how much bandwidth he was using.

When he called to complain, Northwestel said that his router must have been hacked.

“I can look at my logs on the router and tell you everybody that’s been on it, and it’s just our computers,” he said. “It just seems like excuse after excuse after excuse, and they won’t admit that there’s a problem.”

Those discrepancies aren’t always in the company’s favour, said Rick Copes.

Copes runs a Facebook group called Northwestel Abuses Yukoners and Exploits its Monopoly, dedicated to protesting the telco’s data rates.

He tested Northwestel’s counter by downloading a five-gigabyte file, and then checked his usage online with their counter.

It showed only three gigs of usage.

Copes said he has seen the counter make mistakes before, and then mysteriously, the numbers change several days later.

Northwestel asserts its counter is accurate, and that this latest problem is only with the notification system.

However there is no way to check its accuracy, because, just like the price of internet itself, the way usage is measured is completely unregulated.

A branch of Industry Canada inspects all businesses nationwide that sell a product in a measurable quantity, like a gas station or butcher shop.

But the law that governs such things, the Weights and Measurements Act, doesn’t cover internet data.

“The act does not specifically address bandwidth measuring devices for internet usage-based billing,” said Industry Canada spokesperson Michel Cimpaye in an email. “As such, Measurement Canada does not currently regulate internet usage measurement accuracy.”

That lack of oversight is frustrating for Northwestel customers.

“If they sell you a gigabyte they should have to prove you’ve used a gigabyte, but they don’t have to,” said Whitton, who added that the only way anything is going to change is with an act of Parliament.

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