Geist on UBB: Canada Stands Alone

Michael Geist’s research team has just released a very important study into the concepts of network congestion, usage-based billing, and pricing structures of internet access around the world. He’s posted a great summary of it online (Usage Based Billing Around the World: How Canada Stands Alone), but the full report is also well worth reading if you have the time.

It’s clear that the practices of Canada’s major internet providers put this country’s citizens at a disadvantage both from a cost and an access perspective.

When you discuss the upcoming election with local candidates, be sure to ask them where they stand on the issue of internet access in Canada and what their government might do to improve access and reduce costs for Canadians to ensure that we can compete on a level equal to other developed nations.

The Difference a Comma Can Make

I tried to view TNS’ “Mobile Life: Global Telecom Insights” report on my iPad this morning and was met with this begrudging apology.

My mental response to the message is along the lines of: “Well, I’ll forgive you this time, but I do agree that Flash sucks.”

Of course, TNS is not apologizing for publishing their report in an outdated media format. What they really mean is, “We’re sorry, this is Flash content.”

What a difference a comma can make.

Netflix Responds to Consumer Need

Netflix is the best thing to come along in the world of media consumption since iTunes. If you’re not subscribed you’re crazy. That said, I can understand why many people stay away from Netflix in Canada and in the Yukon particularly: the significant cost of internet access and a fear of overuse penalties.

If that’s the case with you, then Netflix has just introduced a significant new feature to help you avoid those problems. “Manage Video Quality” lets the Netflix subscriber control how much data they use to watch television and movies online. The company claims this can reduce data use by up to two-thirds:

For example, watching 30 hours of Netflix movies & TV shows will only use 9 GB of data, well below most Canadian ISP data caps. Previously, 30 hours from Netflix typically used 31 GB.

The options you’re offered are pleasantly simple:

  • Good quality (up to 0.3 GB per hour)
  • Better quality (up to 0.7 GB per hour)
  • Best quality (up to 1 GB per hour, or up to 2.3 GB per hour for HD)

Netflix’s library of content in Canada is constantly growing. New deals with major studios like Universal and upcoming exclusive content like a North American adaptation of House of Cards make the $7.99 monthly price tag the best deal for movies and TV shows around.

The new “Manage Video Quality” feature only adds to that value by enabling subscribers to mitigate the financial risks of accessing the internet in Canada.

Yet Another Failure with Northwestel’s Internet Usage Tool [update]

I just got back from a from a spring break vacation and figured that I’d better check my internet usage since the person who had been watching my house for me is a bit of a Netflix addict.

Unfortunately, Northwestel’s internet usage tool hasn’t been updated since last Tuesday:

Is this company for real? On March 1, I wrote a detailed description of many of the things that I consider to be wrong with this tool, and made some recommendations as to how Northwestel could improve it.

Unfortunately, rather than take my critique to heart, the company is moving its tool in the other direction and letting it get even worse. (Or maybe they’re just too busy picking on their customers on Facebook to notice the usage tool has stopped working.)

No update in 5 days? That’s just gross negligence, particularly when you consider many of us could be getting punished for overuse right now and not even know it.

Update

So it turns out not to be negligence, nor a failure in the Northwestel system, but rather that other failing common to Northwestel’s internet usage tool: bad design.

The modem that I was checking had been unplugged by the person taking care of my house on March 22 to avoid me being punished for any internet data overuse. As a result, Northwestel’s system stopped tracking it at that point. The system, it seems, doesn’t track zero values for periods of time that it can’t see a modem; instead, it tracks nothing at all. In fact, it stops tracking.

And therein lies the bad design: in the user’s mind, time carried on and the last five days have been zero-use days, and the user would expect to see that reported. Since the modem is technically still active as an account, the user maintains a mental model of time passing and the associated use, or lack thereof, of the modem over that period of time.

So when Northwestel’s system reports that it has not tracked anything associated with the modem for five days, there is a disconnect with the model of events that is in the user’s mind. The user expects to see at least an indication that the system has been operating in the interim, not that there have been no updates in 5 days. The user needs assurance that the system in remaining operative, even if there has been nothing to track.

Of course, if you further associate those expectations with the fact that the tool is historically prone to failure, then the user assumes that the system has again failed. And that’s what I did: assumed further failure, based on a history of it.

Apologies go out to Northwestel for suggesting negligence, but this is just more evidence to support the fact that the company badly needs to overhaul a poorly designed and implemented tool.

Off We Go, Haltingly, Into the Post-PC Era

We’re firmly into what’s commonly called the “Post-PC” era.

The iPad has sparked the gradual demise of both desktop and notebook computers. The mouse-click of yore has become the finger-tap of tomorrow, and the screen itself is now our primary means of inputting data into a computer.

Meanwhile, the “cloud” – aka the internet – has evolved into our primary information storage medium.

We have less and less need for local storage facilities like hard drives and DVDs. The more information we deposit into the cloud, the easier it is to access and manage.

There’s no doubt that the iPad as a device is truly revolutionary and has turned the technology industry upside down. Meanwhile, the cloud is redefining how and where we store our most valuable information.

Unfortunately, both new computing paradigms are weighed down heavily by the legacy of the PC.

And that’s extremely frustrating. Continue reading

A Visitors Guide to Driving in Whitehorse, Yukon

A couple of recent conversations with visitors to our cold town revealed to me that, despite having similar signage and traffic signalling to other North American jurisdictions, local driving practice is very different. To aid visiting motorists who venture out on the streets of Whitehorse, Yukon, I’ve prepared this guide to assist them in being better prepared for local driving conditions. Continue reading

Northwestel’s Low Blow

Northwestel is unhappy with this imageI’m not a big fan of Facebook, but I do recognize that it’s an efficient and effective place for valuable dialogue; it’s an important contemporary communications resource for an open exploration of issues, ideas, and arguments. The whole point of Facebook is engagement, sharing, discussion and, yes, protest.

In other words, it’s a social media platform.

Too often, though, it’s erroneously viewed less as a social platform and more as a marketing one. That’s the mistake that Northwestel makes with their approach to Facebook, obviously at the company’s peril.

Case in point, the Facebook group, “Northwestel abuses yukoners, and exploits its monopoly“. This page is an expression of dissatisfaction with Northwestel and its business model. When the company began its own Facebook page, it’s unlikely that it expected such a fervent protest movement to erupt one click away. Hence the growing problem that the company is now facing: the protest is flooding over onto its own page.

The whole point of Facebook, of course, is engagement. Time and again Northwestel fails to recognize this. Too often its customers have made efforts to begin a dialogue on Northwestel’s page, only to be stonewalled or invited to directly contact the company’s service reps and take the conversation offline.

People begin dialogues on Facebook, though, for the express purpose that they stay online in full public view where everyone can read them. Northwestel seems somehow surprised by this. The company doesn’t understand that open, public dialogue should have been its primary purpose in joining Facebook, and that the marketing aspect of social media happens as a result of this, not in spite of it. Pumping out mini press releases with a stiff upper lip doesn’t cut it.

It’s clear that Northwestel finds itself out of its element on Facebook and, as a result, is getting a supreme ass-whupping there. It’s sort of painful to watch, as though a circus clown wandered out into a rodeo stadium just after a cowboy fell off a bull. It’s gruesome. And it gets uglier every day. When I discuss Facebook with people I cite Northwestel’s page as a textbook example of how not to do it.

Presumably with its back against the wall (or, perhaps with a muzzle suffocating whoever is unfortunate enough to be in charge of managing Northwestel’s Facebook presence), the company has committed the lowest blow: it’s sicked Facebook on the telco’s own customers. George Lessard has posted a detailed description of Northwestel’s actions over on his blog, @Northwestel tries to quash criticism by intimidating protesters. To sum it up, the company has threatened to have the protest page shut down and its owners kicked off Facebook if they don’t remove the image I’ve included with this post.

The issue, of course, isn’t the image. Whether it’s damaging or defamatory or even distasteful is a moot point. What’s at issue now is Northwestel’s retaliatory action against one aspect of a broader situation it’s desperately failing to manage.

What Northwestel did is the rough equivalent of kicking a competing player between the legs when you don’t like how badly you’re losing the soccer match. It’s Bertuzzi’s infamous blow-from-behind. There are a million ways Northwestel could have handled the situation more proactively, even to the point of coming out on top, with just a little bit of creative thinking. Instead, not only are its actions injurious to the company’s own reputation, but they also highlight how poorly the company understands Facebook, and social media in general, as a communications medium.

If Northwestel really wants to use Facebook to its advantage, then it needs to open up a dialogue with its customers. The medium demands it. Hitting below the belt won’t help at all.

Otherwise, if the company can’t figure out Facebook, then there’s really only one piece of advice anyone can offer it: if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

How to Avoid Northwestel’s $10-per-GB Overuse Penalties

I met Northwestel’s Curtis Shaw the other morning and one of the things we discussed was bandwidth caps and over-use penalties.

One of the ideas I suggested (and which he mentioned was being considered at Northwestel) was a “Usage Insurance Plan“, like the one Northwestel’s parent company, Bell, offers. Under this scheme you pre-buy blocks of usage at bulk rates that you may or may not take advantage of. Even if you exceed your account’s data cap by just a bit, though, you’re essentially protected from the ISP’s more expensive piecemeal penalties.

Here’s Bell’s Usage Insurance Plan pricing grid, calculated to present the per-GB fees (assuming one uses 100% of the plan):

Cost Data Cap Cost-per-GB
$5 40 GB 12.5¢
$10 80 GB 12.5¢
$15 120 GB 12.5¢

It would be nice if Northwestel offered this sort of plan to help its heavy-use customers avoid being rapped on the knuckles by the current $10-per-GB penalty. But at this point in time, we can only dream…

Or maybe not… As I drove home from my meeting, I realized that Northwestel does, in fact, offer a Data Usage Insurance Plan – sort of. Continue reading