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.

It’s just unofficially called, “Get Another Modem”.

Any customer can simply sign up for a second internet account with Northwestel to receive a second modem, and then swap out the first modem when its associated usage cap is reached.

Here’s a table representing Northwestel’s Whitehorse-area broadband plans, with associated per-GB fees, assuming 100% usage.

Package Cost Download Speed Data Cap Cost-per-GB Range
High Speed Standard $62.95 5 Mbps 20 GB $3.15 7 GB to 20 GB
High Speed Performance $83.95 16 Mbps 60 GB $1.40 8.5 GB to 60 GB
High Speed Extreme $124.95 25 Mbps 75 GB $1.66 13 GB to 75 GB

While the per-GB fees on Northwestel’s account are nowhere near as sweet as Bell’s insurance plan, they’re markedly smaller than the $10-per-GB overuse penalties that the company currently levies.

The “Range” column represents the overuse range within which you would experience cost savings over Northwestel’s $10-per-GB overuse penalty, if you had a second modem. For example, you would have to exceed the data cap on your first modem by an average of 6 GB every month to realize savings with a second modem subscribed to a “High Speed Standard” plan. Of course, those savings would only be realized up to the 20 GB threshold, because after that point you would start paying the $10-per-GB overuse penalty again.

The best option, looking at the table above, appears to be two modems each subscribed to the High Speed Performance account, where you can potentially drive your per-GB costs down to $1.40.

Of course, it’s arguable that you’d be missing out on the additional speed that the Extreme account offers. But I’m on an Extreme account right now, and I’m only able to hit near the 25 Mbps threshold when I test against Northwestel’s local facilities. In general internet use, I rarely see speeds above 10-13 Mbps. So the 16¢-per-GB premium I pay for that extra bit of speed isn’t really worth it, because it isn’t really delivered.

A caveat is that you have to obsess over your monthly usage in order that you swap out your first modem starts getting penalized. But if you’re a heavy user like me, then you already do that – and dread the day every month when the penalties automatically kick in. ($200 in penalties in February for me, BTW.)

One final caveat is this: Northwestel will only issue a second modem with a package identical to the first. So if you have a modem with an Extreme account now, you can’t top it up with a second modem subscribed to Standard. The second modem would have to be subscribed to a second Extreme package.

Then there’s the risk, of course. As with all insurance plans, you might just be throwing away your money for no good reason if you don’t regularly exceed your data cap. And unlike with Bell’s affordable insurance plans, signing up for a second internet account is expensive. That’s why you’d have to look at your data use over time – say 12 months – to make sure that at some point you’d realized cost savings.

I’m hopeful that Northwestel will come up with an insurance plan or some other service that will help alleviate the penalty fees that are levied against regular heavy users such as myself. But I’m not holding my breath. So, until that day when unicorns roam the earth, I figure this is how heavy users like myself can make the best of a bad situation.

3 thoughts on “How to Avoid Northwestel’s $10-per-GB Overuse Penalties

  1. I am a heavy user as well, in fact I have been on the current multi-modem insurance plan for some time now. I have 3 of the 60GB modems currently, and still go over. The bill I recived in Feb was more than $1200.00, and there is a similar one yet to come for Feb’s overages. For several years, I have paid 10-15K$ /yr in overages to our local ISP rapist, NorthWesTel. I am considering getting a 4th and possibly a 5th modem in my house to avoid being raped so hard over a barrel. I have no other choice.

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