In light of Northwestel’s new pricing that takes effect September 1, I looked at a cross-section of Canadian internet providers this evening. And I’d summarize Northwestel’s service upgrade something like this: relatively competitive service levels, but insanely expensive prices.
Internet services in Canada seem to be very regionally dependent. Bell, for example, offers very competitive packages in Ontario, but almost nothing in British Columbia. And some providers I looked at, like Cogeco and Vidéotron, are limited to Ontario and Quebec. Of course, Northwestel is the North’s sole provider.
So it’s somewhat surprising that packages are at all comparable across Canada. But, roughly, they are.
The industry seems to have settled on a low-, mid-, and high-range set of categories for consumer service packages. Some service providers also offer a premium level of internet service which, from my perspective, is to die for. But I can understand that in some regions there would be very little interest in these higher-tier pricing models.
Each package is generally advertised as being part of a bundle, such as with television or telephone services. I assessed the services in their unpackaged states, however, as the bundle discounts varied from provider to provider by about $10, so it seemed most representative to view the internet services at their “native” price.
As I mentioned, Northwestel’s packages generally come out as the highest or second-highest priced in each category. But, in general, they also offer some relatively competitive services. Unfortunately, their competitiveness is never where it counts most: data useage.
In general, Northwestel offers about 30% to 60% of the comparable data useage to the best competitor in each category. And Northwestel is generally priced 50% to 100% higher than the lowest competitor in each category.
Where the North’s provider tries to make up lost ground is on download data rates, but the company’s edge here is generally quite minimal.
In the low-end category, Northwestel offers 5 GB of data useage at a download rate of 384 Kbps for $40 per month. But the winner in that category is clearly Cogeco in Quebec, with double the data useage and almost double the data rate for about half the price. Vidéotron loses the low end with a package that costs $33, but offers a measly 2 GB of data useage.
Northwestel just barely loses in the mid-range category to Vidéotron with a disappointing package that includes just 20 GB of data use and a download rate of 5 Mbps for $60. Vidéotron offers up a 50% faster package with 50% more data use for just a couple of dollars more than Northwestel here. The winner of the mid-range is clearly Shaw, with a healthy 7.5 Mbps download rate, a very healthy 60 GB of data use and a moderate price of $42.
In the high end Northwestel just can’t hold their own, for one reason: price. $80 is just too much for the level of service on offer. Quebec’s Vidéotron comes in at just $5 cheaper but offers a whopping 40 GB of more data use. And this category is blown away by Telus in BC with a 15 Mbps download rate and 100 GB of data use for a measly $43. That’s just $4 more than Northwestel’s low-end package.
Clearly Northwestel is not competitive with southern internet providers, but the company doesn’t have to be. Its solid monopoly in the North protects it from such rudimentary business concerns. All the same, you have to give the company kudos for taking the interests of its customers to heart and working aggressively to both reduce cost and improve service. One just wishes they could have gone a little bit further on both points.
Here’s the data I was working with tonight. It’s not an authoritative overview of Canadian internet service packages, but I feel it’s a broad enough overview to make a reasonable assessment.