Bell scams customers with inflated usage billing

By Christopher Walsh
February 09, 2011
Bell Canada
Bell Canada -
After a massive online campaign against Bell and its tactic of using regulator CRTC to dictate competitors' pricing models, media outlets across the country are reporting Bell's inflated data usage charges.

This is the first time mainstream media has actually bothered reporting on the issue of ISPs like Bell Internet, formerly Sympatico, charging much more for bits and bytes than customers actually use. This is just yet another blow to Bell Canada's PR mess which started in January 2011 after the CRTC blinding sided with it.

A supposed 'glitch' in Bell's metering software has been blamed for the over-charges, though many across Internet forums have complained about being nickled and dimed for bandwidth they never actually used for a while now with both Bell and Rogers broadband services.

This comes as another jab against Bell during a national outrage against the Usage Based Billing (UBB) model which gives service providers permission to charge over-usage of $1.00 - $5.00 per GB, most often a 2,000% to 20,000% inflation above market rates when estimated actual bandwidth costs of around $0.01 to $0.03 per GB and a maximum of $0.10 in more rural areas.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission recently ruled that Bell Canada and other large providers in the country were allowed to dictate the pricing schemes of smaller, independent providers across the country. The most vocal of the smaller ISPs is Teksavvy, an Ontario-based service provider offering its users the option of unlimited Internet connectivity for a reasonable price.

The Canadian public rightfully view the changes in pricing as nothing less than a greedy money-grab, rightfully so because bandwidth cannot be compared to a tangible asset like water or electricity; the capacity exists and that's exactly what customers are paying for. Moreover, the networks aren't completely owned by the major providers in a sense, since taxpayers paid for the large majority of these through direct taxes or kickbacks.

Though the headline might be a bit quick to jump the gun, we feel that such high markups for such a cheap service like bandwidth ought to be called a scam: Making money without providing a real service.

The second scandal is the actual reason for such extraordinary charges for consumer Internet connections. Each of the large providers in Canada are seeing their business model in other media assets fall because of cheaper alternatives online such as Netflix, CTV and CBC streaming and even video sharing services like YouTube.

Canadians have been increasingly more tech savvy by adopting other, legal means of accessing commercial-free movie and television services online.

Bell currently sells its basic Internet package as a 5 Megabit-per-second service with a maximum monthly usage of 25 Gigabytes. Put into perspective, this would allow customers to use their 5 Megabit connection for a maximum of 56.8 hours or just over 2 days per month without paying extra bandwidth charges.

Bell Canada currently only provisions a 0.25 Megabyte-per-second connection to customers so nobody is actually technically receiving the 5 Megabit connection they pay so much for.

[Correction: We meant an approx. 0.25 Megabyte per second connection, not per Megabit]

Following an online petition to stop Usage Based Billing, Western-Canadian cable provider Shaw Communications promised to delay their implementation of UBB and will provide customers with a forum to input their feelings over the next 2 months. No other provider has made such a move.

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Comments (30)
Andem's Avatar
Andem    Feb 9th, 2011
It's really ridiculous that after all of this media attention, Bell is under yet another magnifying glass having their true business practices revealed.
Reprobus's Avatar
Reprobus    Feb 9th, 2011
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Thanks for this article. I think for anyone to choose a side in this debate, they MUST understand why "data usage" is NOT the same as "bandwidth". Gigabytes have no cost/value in this context. The ISPs push that concept because it's the only measurable flow they can use against us in this scam.

Bandwidth is a speed, NOT a volume of data. No customer can exceed the speed of the connection they paid for. If Bell sells a 5mbps connection, Bell is accepting the responsibility of providing that 5mbps for the month. If Bell oversells, it is NOT the responsibility of the consumer. How DARE they demonize those who make more than a few hours use of the connection.

Gigabytes should not be monetized! With a fixed rate infrastructure, the more gigabytes are transmitted, the lower the perceived "cost/gig". It collapses under its own logic, despite the spin put on it by ISPs.

The amount downloaded in a month does not relate to congestion. This is simply creating a revenue stream by unfairly and unjustifiably taxing people's growing internet habits, because it threatens their own content assets.

The utility comparison to water/electricity is flawed (for the simple reason that data is neither produced nor consumed).

I think the suitable analogy is Public Transit. Customers buy a monthly metropass. Some use it more frequently than others. Obviously some times of day are more congested (peak times). But the frequent riders would be using the service during uncongested times too. The frequent rider is riding an existing scheduled vehicle (not "hogging" or negatively impacting anyone else's ability to ride).

UBB is akin to the transit company deciding that halfway through the month, they would charge the more frequent riders per kilometre travelled.

If the transit company is concerned with congestion at peak times, why would the blame lie with frequent riders? Those riders simply provide a consistent baseline showing where support is needed.

It's time to nationalize the last mile, if Bell is only interested in exploiting its ownership at a ludicrous cost to Canadians.
Andem's Avatar
Andem    Feb 9th, 2011
I think you pretty much further legitimized the points made in the article, Reprobus. Welcome to CC!
petros's Avatar
petros    Feb 9th, 2011
Can you get a ticket for parking in the internet bus lane?
Unforgiven's Avatar
Unforgiven    Feb 9th, 2011
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Bell and Rogers have always been predatory where there customers are concerned. Where else are you going to go?
Even if you move to a smaller company, you're still going to use Bell or Rogers network. Now maybe Telus is a player but not much of an alternative as they play the same game now.
Reprobus's Avatar
Reprobus    Feb 9th, 2011
Thanks Andem! And no, petros, no parking tickets. Because in my analogy, you don't have a car! Bell Transit is the only choice you have for travel!
petros's Avatar
petros    Feb 9th, 2011
Quote: Originally Posted by Unforgiven --

Bell and Rogers have always been predatory where there customers are concerned. Where else are you going to go?
Even if you move to a smaller company, you're still going to use Bell or Rogers network. Now maybe Telus is a player but not much of an alternative as they play the same game now.

telus is a piggyback network
exbelluser's Avatar
exbelluser    Feb 9th, 2011
Bell Overcharge and Scam ? they have been doing it for years.
Maximus1217's Avatar
Maximus1217    Feb 9th, 2011
Thank you for writing this article, and I am completely against UBB, however I believe you have your numbers mixed up:

1) A 25GB cap at 5Mbps would run out in a little over 11 hours, not 57 hours.
25000MB / 0.625MB/s=40000seconds or 11-hours

2) "Bell Canada currently only provisions a 0.25 Megabit-per-second connection to customers"

There would be outrage is there was the case. 0.25Mbps=31.25KB/s which is only slightly faster than dial-up internet.
karrie's Avatar
karrie    Feb 9th, 2011
I just find it unbelievable that with the highest cell rates in the world, they had the nerve to go ask for the ability to charge even more.