Northwestel introduced new internet packages today. Compared to the company’s old packages, on pretty much every level the company has upgraded the speed slightly, upgraded the data transfer volume slightly, while also nudging the price down by a hair. A little bit more for a little bit less is good, right?*
For sure. But the real question is: how do the new packages fare against comparable offerings in other regions of Canada? Let’s consider Northwestel’s packages against a relatively local service provider (if you consider mile 0 of the Alaska Highway local), Shaw, along with the Ontario offerings of Northwestel’s owner, Bell.
First off, the entry level of the service spectrum.
|Provider||Package Name||Download Speed||Upload Speed||Data Volume||Price||Over-use Cost|
|Northwestel||Internet 1||1 Mbps||256 kbps||1 GB||$41.95||$5 for 1 GB|
|Shaw||High Speed 10||10 Mbps||512 Kbps||125 GB||$50.00||Bump Up|
|Bell||Fibe Internet 50/1||5 Mbps||1 Mbps||20 GB||$39.95||$5 for 25 GB|
While you can get internet access for a relatively low cost of $42 a month, the service you receive is ridiculously minimal – to the point of being insulting. Consider that, with Shaw, for just $8 more a month you’ll get 125 times the data volume each month at 10 times the data transfer rate. Then further consider the fact that if you exceed your monthly data transfer cap, with Shaw you’ll just get temporarily “bumped up” to their next account level rather than raked through the Northwestel’s over-use penalty coals of $5 per GB. So in this instance with Shaw you’d pay an extra $15 that month for an additional 50 GB of data — about 30 cents a GB. That’s a huge difference.
But how do things look at Northwestel’s high end?
|Provider||Package Name||Download Speed||Upload Speed||Data Volume||Price||Extra Volume Cost|
|Northwestel||Internet 50||50 Mbps||2 Mbps||150 GB||$110.95||$5 for 1 GB|
|Shaw||Broadband 50||50 Mbps||3 Mbps||400 GB||$75.00||Bump Up|
|Bell||Fibe Internet 50/10||50 Mbps||10 Mbps||175 GB||$82.95||$5 for 25 GB|
Here the disparity is even more obvious, especially when you consider that this isn’t even the high end for Bell or Shaw — these packages are just mid-range by national standards. 150 GB of data per month is simply not enough data for contemporary use. With Shaw, for example, you can get as much as 1000 GB per month for just $5 more than Northwestel’s top plan.
My biggest disappointments with Northwestel’s new pricing structure are the lack of improvement on maximum uploads speeds and the company’s ridiculously expensive over-use penalty fees.
The extreme constraint of just 2 Mbps for data uploading cuts customers off from using essential online services like data backup and file storage. Plus, there’s no indication that Northwestel has resolved its service’s inability to allow simultaneous uploading and downloading, nor for its modems’ propensity to lock up when significant uploading takes place (I just spent the better part of an afternoon having Northwestel unlock one of my client’s modems that had been locked up due to heavy data uploading).
The largest ongoing problem with Northwestel’s service structure, of course, is the company’s over-use penalty fee of $5 per GB. It deserves note that Northwestel over the past couple of years has pushed this down from $10. But when Shaw and other Canadian providers currently offer unlimited data packages for around the $200 mark, and even Northwestel’s owner Bell will sell you 25 GB of data for the same price Northwestel charges for just one, it’s inarguable that Northwestel’s over-use penalty fee is nothing short of gouging a trapped customer base.
Yes, paying slightly less money for slightly more service is a good thing. But I would argue that these new packages are nothing more than a political response to pressures from the CRTC and the Yukon Government. Were Northwestel truly a competitively-spirited company working in the best interests of customers, we’d see our rates change to be more in line with national standards.
Even with Northwestel’s moderate package improvements, it’s clear that internet access in the North still lags far behind other regions of Canada in every respect and desperately needs significant improvement.
Finally, on a pragmatic note: Northwestel’s new internet packages do not automatically replace the package you currently subscribe to, as many people I spoke to today expected they would. Your old account fees and service levels will remain in place until you call Northwestel and specifically request the new, better valued services. So make sure you do that.
* UPDATE: As Patrick Goruick pointed out in a comment on the Geek Life Facebook page, these new packages aren’t really much of a deal or a change at all. For the two lowest-level packages, there is no change whatsoever. Only the two highest-level packages experience moderate increases in download speeds, usage caps, and a moderate decrease in price. Shockingly, as Patrick points out, for subscribers to the top three packages who bundle their service with television services, prices will go up (I don’t subscribe to television, which is why I didn’t notice that important fact). While I regret being remiss in recognizing these facts, they only serve to reinforce the core message of this post: when it comes to internet services, the North deserves and needs better than Northwestel.