About a year ago the CRTC issued a requirement that internet service in northern Canada get faster. Like a lot of other people, I made the assumption that this meant Northwestel would have to improve their service overall. I was wrong. I missed the loophole that Northwestel exploited this week: service only has to get faster, not necessarily better.
A couple of days ago, Northwestel increased the upload and download speeds of their highest-level consumer cable internet “Extreme” package, to 2 Mbps and 50 Mbps. The company also introduced a very moderate decrease in price of $10, or about 7.5%.
That’s nice, but it’s shadow play, an adroit marketing sleight of hand that satisfies the CRTC and fools us into thinking the company might actually be improving something. The real value of this package didn’t change at all.
Namely, data transfer caps didn’t budge an inch. The “Extreme” package still includes a measly 100 GB of data for the new price of $120 per month. Compare that to Shaw’s offering down at the end of the Alaska Highway, in Dawson Creek (population: 12,000). For $10 less per month there, you get 1 TB of data (that’s 1000 GB) and download speeds of 250 Mbps. Bump your account cost up to $130 and your data is unlimited.
There’s no real value in speed increases because Northwestel’s speed ratings are, at best, theoretical to begin with. In the real world you’ll never, ever download anything at 50 Mbps through Northwestel’s service. Not even close. The company readily admits that (at least its CSRs do). Increasing data speeds is a foil, a dupe. Or, more plainly, it’s BS.
I tested my internet connection to Northwestel’s local office yesterday. Repeated tests yielded results of barely 35 Mbps. That’s a test of a local connection to a service provided by Northwestel. To a server in Vancouver I got just 16 Mbps.
Assume for a moment, however, that 50 Mbps was a realistic data transfer rate through Northwestel. Then increasing speeds on an internet package without also increasing volume is a cruel joke to play on customers. You can download the same amount of stuff from the internet twice as fast. What’s the point?
In simpler terms, Northwestel has has increased the speed limit on the highway, but we’ve still only got half a tank of gas to drive with. True, we can travel twice as fast as we used to, but we won’t get any further down the road. Unless, of course, we fill up at Northwestel’s gas stations where fuel sells for $50/l, which the company certainly hopes we’ll do.
In that view, Northwestel’s data speed change can be accurately construed as a play for more money from heavy internet users. We’re now more likely to exceed the company’s data caps and be punished by the company’s over-use fees. It’s a significant increase in risk for us.
Northwestel’s “Extreme” account adjustments this week are at best a tease and at worst a taunt. Almost certainly, however, they’re an indication of what’s to come for the rest of their internet packages: speeds will be increased, but data caps will stay the same. That way the company can exploit a loophole in the CRTC’s requirements to make the internet faster, but not necessarily better. While it’s true that we’ll be able to download content in less time, we’ll also be drawn more quickly beyond Northwestel’s minuscule data caps where the company will be able to extract significantly more money from us.