How Northwestel Measures Up to Southern Canadian Internet Providers

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.

Canada Providers Comparisons

7 thoughts on “How Northwestel Measures Up to Southern Canadian Internet Providers

  1. I think you need to do some more investigation: Northwestel is not the only provider in the north: all you need to do is look in the yellowpages:

    SSIMicro in Yellowknife & other northern communities…

    Qiniq & AirWare in NWT & Nunavut..

    Gartal Holding Ltd used to run out of Fort Smith

    Cascom out of yellowknife…

    … name a few.. those of which have no ties to Northwestel… there are of course sibling companies like Netkaster & Navigo.. but we’ll leave those alone.

    You mentioned Andrew, that you received the young or new..?? entrepeneurs award in Whitehorse back in 2000 because of your dealings in the technological business… Being a business man, you know that one goes in to business (as one person, or as a company..) to make money.. Granted Northwestel is the only larger company in the north… they hardly have a monopoly.. you of ALL people should know & express to your readers (as it’s only fair..) that it was claimed by the CRTC as fair game/open grounds for ANY competition to come & service the customers of the north any time they want!!! Have they come?? No! of course not!!! because it doesn’t make good business sense to arrive! The COST of doing business in the north is much higher than down south… again, a simple fact that you as a business man should know!

    The price tables you provided above prove that Northwestel is in alignment with most of the companies in Canada.. given the service offered, and the ground covered.. this operating area hardly has the customer base that say Shaw Direct has! Bell has more customers in Ontario alone, than Northwestel has in all of the north!

    What would you suggest the company do?? Pack up & leave all of us northerns to communicate lead to paper??

    Why does it seem you have a bit of a bug up your rear when it comes to Northwestel, Andrew?

    • Sorry if the cascom website is down, the bills aren’t getting paid.

      Just to set the record straight, cascom does not provide internet services. cascom resells internet from other providers and charges a huge markup for an unmanaged service. Anybody can do this better than cascom even if cascom tried harder.

      Currently, cascom employ one field service technician to install and support these systems. Hard to be in three places at one time for Aaron, right Aaron?

      xplornet is a big money maker for cascom, but jon says that they are a second-rate service provider and he doesn’t like doing business with them but won’t mind taking your money for it. One reason that jon thinks this way is because he hooks up all the camps at the lowest bandwidth option (1megabit/s) for camps that can have over 50 users. Within the hour, after only a few users have been downloading porn and movies, the system automatically invokes its fair access policy and cuts the bandwidth down to a mere trickle. That’s one reason jon hates xplornet. It would be more expensive to bump users up and the same situation would inevitably occur so why not maximize profits while at it? Way to go cascom! Another more important reason that jon hates xplornet is because his little brother Aaron pulled the plug on his free home NWTel high speed internet link from his office because he was downloading 30+gigs a month (as overage), so Aaron put his house on an xplornet 1mb satellite link to avoid having to pay these overages. jon was using the cascom link to do his network marketing scamming and came storming into the office one day yelling “FIX IT” and putting on quite the tantrum.

      i like the acronym for fair access policy and how it applies to the context of cascom. ‘Nuff said…

      Datadrill in Calgary, the main supplier cascom uses for remote camps (actually 99# of remote camps are plugged into Datadrill but cascom wouldn’t like Datadrill to know this) have a stable system and security is pretty good. Too good, because cascom cannot simply plug in a sip phone to a Datadrill system and make it work because of inbound ports being locked down. cascom would have to ask Datadrill to open them and Datadrill would wonder why because Datadrill supply ip telephony except that Datadrill won’t give any other area code than 403 and also charge high rates for traffic. cascom doesn’t like this but have no choice so they play the silent card hoping that Datadrill never find out the truth and hit ’em where it hurts. Mining exploration in the north is potentially big business and cascom want every dollar.

      atcontact are used for 2 camps but spring storms over their teleport in Colorado and even sunspots can really affect the quality of service and that makes cascom have to do stuff, which they don’t like.

      cascom used to use iax asterisk servers on their ip telephone network but since they got hacked, they have been trying to get away with using sip trunks exclusively with thinktel over Datadrill. Hope that Datadrill don’t find this out. I think they will though…

      if anyone wants to go to cascom to get connected, be prepared to dig deep into your pocket to shell out the bucks.

      cascom do not
      – sell computers, service them or even talk to you
      – sell spot gps transceivers even if you ask for one
      this is because their supplier (globalstar) won’t ship orders for less than 10 units and cascom doesn’t want to tie down capital in stocking 9 units.

      – provide cellular services

      – provide satellite services of any quality, they just charge a hell of a lot of money and hope that it works tomorrow.

      – provide office equipment solutions

      – provide quality retail point-of-sale (#250 for a used universal laptop power supply???)

      – employ 7 employees. There’s jon, part-owner who does approximately 2 hours each week because of the priority network marketing scam. There’s Aaron, who actually works, but thinks he knows it all and is prone to violent outbursts that he forgets. Then there’s Tracy, a token employee to answer the phones but that’s all she is good at, mediocre, at best. That’s cascom.

      – make 1 – 5 million dollars annual revenue. I would be surprised if they can haul in 10% of that…

      – provide an alarm system to protect the interests of cascom, The Ogre’s Lair and even the diamond cutters Crossworks. Alarm systems are only for insurance premium reduction and aren’t really useful for anything else, especially when there are diamond cutter under your roof.

      Think twice if you plan to do business with cascom, you have been warned.

  2. Well said Nicole, you highlight the gaping flaw in Andrew’s rant.
    All these other companies do not want to put up the $$ necessary to get stuff done in the north. You should be grateful that there is even A company that is willing to provide service up there, let alone at comparable speeds and rates!

  3. i feel compelled to remind you, nicole and james (or tell you, as the case may be), that northwestel gets huge subsidies from the southern phone companies, via the National Contribution Fund – $39.4 million for 2007. (,%20December%202006.pdf – page 2)

    so, while i agree that it doesn’t make much business sense for, say, rogers to come to yukon and try to compete, there’s no reason we should all lay prostrate at nwtel’s feet, grateful that they grace us with the luxury of reasonably priced telecom services – they’re doing just fine.

    also, did u not read a previous article of andrew’s ( where he wrote, “I just had lunch with Northwestel’s Vice President of Consumer and Small Business Markets, Curtis Shaw…?” apparently, mr. shaw (a humourously ironic name, btw!) doesn’t feel andrew’s bum-bug is much of an issue. on the contrary, if it weren’t for people like andrew, who publicly shine a critical light on the telecom monopoly in yukon, we’d all still have 28.8 dial-up and 25 cent-a-minute long distance, thankful that we have *somebody* making the *sacrifice* to provide us with anything at all….!

  4. Patrick,

    Yes.. Northwestel is a federally funded company… and because of that funding, it’s also highly restricted in what it can & can’t do & what it can & can’t offer to it’s customers…

    Take a company such as Telus.. if say they decide: “Hey, let’s offer our customers a new long distance plan…..” they can mass market it the very following day…

    Northwestel on the other hand, has to go through months of grueling regulatory frame work.. proposals have to be submited to and approved by the CRTC.. so something the “Southerners” can do in days, takes almost a year, if not more, for Northwestel.

    …and to speak of your comment of 28.8 dial up & whatnot.. well hell, we wouldn’t even have THAT if Northwestel decided to pack up & go.

  5. Andrew seems to have some hatred for Northwestel which I find odd since he used to work for them. Does that not make him a hyprocrite? Good enough only to supply you with a paycheck Andrew? Ever heard of don’t bite the hand that feeds you?

    • Mike (and Jessica), just to clarify: I resigned from Northwestel in 2003, after a very brief period of employment. And I disagree with your point: I don’t believe that employment with a company means you can’t criticize that company. What an absolutely ridiculous notion.

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