ISPs implement hidden bitcaps

By Christopher Walsh
May 26, 2004
You don't have to be a guru to be affected by the policies enforced by your Internet service provider. In a year of fierce competition between the countries' largest Internet providers, we have seen an ever increasing change in policies instated by Rogers, Sympatico, Shaw, Cogeco and others. It first started in 2002 when Sympatico started enforcing it's unlimited usage services with something called bitcaps. In a nutshell, making your unlimited Internet usage limited. Limited to 10 gigs upload and download combined. The cable providers promised to do the same until almost a year went by of acquiring dissatisfied Sympatico customers.

“My service was just cut off, I received an automated telephone call later from Rogers and a temporary ban from hi-speed”
Sympatico eventually changed their policy of bitcapping and thus became unlimited Internet service for about $50 p. month. All seemed well, and in an apparent bid to gain customers again, Sympatico increased their popular Internet package to 3 megabits downstream. Rogers Cable soon followed with a double in their upload and download speeds as the competition for customers increases again.

Caught in the fight is the client. The cable providers are having a hard time coping with the bandwidth used up by customers and thus implementing "hidden" bandwidth caps in several areas. Rogers for example seems to be targeting the former Shaw service areas it acquired in late 2000. Users are being blatantly cut off from service for using too much bandwidth.

Shaw cable customers are experiencing similar situations, receiving telephone calls as a warning they are using too much bandwidth and will subsequently be cut off permanently as a result.

It doesn't seem to end there. As sympatico is going away from the bitcap days, the cable providers are seemingly going back towards them in a bid to keep their Internet services extremely profitable.

One user complains "My service was just cut off, I received an automated telephone call later from Rogers and a temporary ban from hi-speed".

To the naked eye, Rogers as our primary example seems to be only targeting certain areas in which their service is oversold. Areas in which their technology is just not able to support their client-base. While one user at an area in the city will get no warnings, no cut offs and no service interruption... a second user in another area of the city will get cut off by using 25gb of usage.

How can a consumer protect himself against service disruption or termination? The answer is quite vague. I contacted Rogers cable and asked how much is too much. The answer I got was extremely vague and unhelpful. "Sir, when your usage is just too much, we will let you know." I continued to try and get actual numbers, but nothing prevailed.

I went on to contact a Shaw cable office in Vancouver. I continued with the same questions as I did for Rogers cable. Although I had to get by the fact I'm not in a Shaw area and hence not a Shaw customer, the technical support representative told me Shaw is flexible with their service usage but does state it encourages customers to stay below 20GB upload and download; in extreme cases, action may be taken.

Sympatico, the countries' largest DSL provider went on to say that their service is unlimited. For how long and in what sense can only be told by time and market conditions.

You can contact your own ISP at the following numbers for more information on your service:

Rogers Cable: 1 (88 ROGERS-1
Sympatico: 310-SURF
Shaw Cable: 1 (800) 807-7429

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