Northwestel has announced new changes to its Internet rates that may help some customers save money.
The telecommunications company has reduced the fees it charges customers who exceed their bandwidth limits by 50 cents per gigabyte, and has introduced new usage blocks for DSL customers who risk going over their monthly limit.
“We know our customers want more affordable options for getting the most out of their Internet,” said Curtis Shaw, Northwestel’s vice-president of residential markets, in a news release. “We’ve listened and today we’re acting to make our usage fees cheaper, and for DSL customers, more flexible.”
But Northwestel isn’t exactly doing all this out of the goodness of its heart.
In March 2015, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ordered Northwestel to reduce its overage fees by 50 cents per gigabyte by February 2016 – which is exactly what the company has now done.
Overage fees used to range from $2 to $3 per gigabyte for people who exceeded their bandwidth limits. Now, premium cable users will pay $1.50 per gigabyte, regular cable users will pay $2 and DSL customers will pay $2.50.
The lower fees will be automatically applied to February bills.
Though this change was required, Northwestel has reduced its rates voluntarily in the past. Back in 2011, for instance, the company was charging $10 per gigabyte of overage.
The new usage blocks will affect only DSL customers in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and northern British Columbia. In the Yukon, most DSL customers live in the communities, where cable Internet is not available.
Northwestel is offering DSL users an extra 50 gigabytes a month on top of their existing packages, for an extra $40 a month.
The offer is targeted at customers who already subscribe to the fastest DSL package available at their location.
“Additional usage blocks can help accommodate long-term guests, a growing household or simply a need for more gigabytes at a reliable monthly price,” according to the release.
Northwestel currently offers three DSL packages with usage caps ranging from 10 to 125 gigabytes per month. Monthly prices range from $38 to $63 a month.
Andrew Robulack, a local business consultant, said he’s pleased to see the latest cuts to overage fees. But in general, he said, Northwestel’s fees are still too high.
“It’s not enough. We’re still really too expensive up here for Internet service and Northwestel should be doing more.”
After the latest announcement, Robulack compared Northwestel’s packages to those offered by Shaw in B.C. and Alberta.
At the high end, he found, cable Internet users in the Yukon will pay $190 a month for 400 gigabytes, or 47.5 cents per gigabyte. In contrast, Shaw’s premium customers will pay $123 for 800 gigabytes, or 15 cents per gigabyte.
At the low end, Northwestel charges cable customers $42 a month for 10 gigabytes, which Robulack said is “bonkers crazy.”
“The majority of them are low-income earners… and they’re getting fleeced for their data.”
He pointed out that it would technically be cheaper for those customers to buy no data and simply pay overage fees for their full usage, if that were possible.
Shaw’s most basic plan offers 65 gigabytes for $35 a month, less than one-seventh the cost of the cheapest Northwestel package.
Robulack also pointed out that Shaw doesn’t generally charge overage fees at all. Instead, employees will contact customers that are going over and encourage them to upgrade to a larger package.
Robulack said that approach might not be possible in the North, but he’d like to see Northwestel drop its overage fees even further. He suggested the fees could fall to as little as 47 cents per gigabyte, since that’s what the company is currently charging for its premium package.
Still, he said he’s happy that Internet access will be getting a little cheaper for some northerners.
“Every reduction is great and is welcome, of course,” he said. “Nobody’s going to sneeze at a cut in costs.”
The CRTC has also ruled that Northwestel is not allowed to raise its residential Internet rates before the end of 2017.
Contact Maura Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org