NorthwesTel lowers fees on Internet use

NorthwesTel has further dropped the fees it charges Internet users who exceed their monthly usage limits to $3 per gigabyte, from $5.

NorthwesTel has further dropped the fees it charges Internet users who exceed their monthly usage limits to $3 per gigabyte, from $5.

It’s the second time the company has dropped these fees, which were initially set at $10, in the face of public criticism that such charges were exorbitant.

Curtis Shaw, the company’s director of marketing, mentioned the fee change, which took effect Feb. 1, during a heated meeting with the Utilities Consumers’ Group that stretched on for an hour and a half on Wednesday night.

“Our goal here in the residential market, we don’t want anyone to get a surprise bill,” Shaw said. “There is no malicious intent with these usage rates.”

Last month dozens of NorthwesTel’s Internet users complained about overage charges climbing into the thousands of dollars. Shaw said the company is considering putting in place a usage cap to cut people off after they reach their monthly limit, as is found in other jurisdictions.

In Ontario, subscribers to Bell Canada – the company that owns NorthwesTel – are charged a fee per gigabyte when they go over their limits, but only up to a maximum of $80.

But these two situations are not really comparable, said Shaw.

“The issues of Toronto or Montreal with millions of people sharing common infrastructure, the cost is quite different. We are looking at different ways of pricing our packages,” Shaw said.

Kyle Jennex, the Whitehorse resident who first raised the issue of excessive overage charges last month, said he wasn’t satisfied with Shaw’s answers.

Jennex has been collecting names on a petition asking the telco to change its overage charges policy. He’s heard from 80 people so far, he said, and the group is still considering launching a class-action lawsuit against the Internet provider if they still don’t listen.

NorthwesTel’s infrastructure also drew criticism, especially its cable Internet lines in Porter Creek. Some residents have complained of unreliable connections and intermittent service in that area, which NorthwesTel attributes to the copper cable it installed there. The lines were buried underground as exposed copper, with no protective casing.

Shaw conceded that was a mistake, and said the company will repair or replace those lines. The company may need to dig up some roads in the area to do it, but Shaw couldn’t specify which streets.

Another issue raised at the meeting was the company’s practice of charging customers for data that moves within their private networks but doesn’t go out to the Internet itself.

These ‘packet charges’ happen when, for example, a business has an office downtown and a warehouse in one of the industrial areas. Rather than use the Internet itself to send information back and forth, many companies choose to link their locations together. NorthwesTel still charges those companies for moving information around inside their network.

“It’s like charging people to drive on the highway when they never leave their own street,” said one man at the meeting.

The Yukon government’s Department of Economic Development also sent a representative to the meeting.

Steve Sorochan, the director of the territory’s new technology and telecommunications division, spoke about government initiatives like a feasibility study to look at a fibre-optic link to Juneau, Alaska. That study is being undertaken in partnership with Dempster Energy Services, which includes the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun and the Gwich’in Tribal Council.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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