I would like to say, before getting too deep into the raging pool that has become the User-Based Billing debate, I’m not a policy wonk, so am not as familiar with CRTC proceedings, guidelines and rules as I probably should be, and I am more than likely also lacking in knowledge when it comes to government policy as well. As the average consumer, however – I feel that the CRTC is not doing what it should to truly be making the Canadian market competitive, and I do feel that it’s time for Industry Canada to step in and write some new rules that would take effect sooner rather than later. I think that there is also more than just a little advantage-taking of those consumers who are even less telecom savvy than me.
We’ve been making use of the internet ever since it became available to outside consumers – you remember the days of placing your phone’s handset near the modem? Trying to play Doom and being killed before you could see the screen? Yes, since then. We advanced through those days of early dial-up, and snagged those first “unlimited” plans from Telus, evolving to Rogers’ cable service, migrating to Shaw when the two telecomms sliced up the country between them, basically with Rogers taking the east and Shaw taking the west – I know it’s more detailed than that, but I’m trying to keep things at least a bit simple. 
In fact we have been with Shaw so long that the CSR I was speaking with at the company yesterday had to completely reformat our bill to bring it up to date, because it was still written the old way. Of course in the process of doing so, and changing a couple of our digital channels around, she removed our third IP address, knocking the Cavechild offline. So Scott had to call Shaw again (our third call of the day) to have the IP address restored. I had called them earlier to ask why we don’t have the option of subscribing to Investigation Discovery. We used to have CourtTV, until that was removed from the selection, and the Investigation Discovery web site states that the channel is available from cable and satellite providers in Canada. Unless you’re a Shaw customer. The CSR I spoke with on that call put in his own request for the channel as well, which was amusing in its own way.
I also used that phone call to pass along my unhappiness about losing 25gb off of our previous I-Extreme cap of 125gb per month, which with the bundle we have, costs $47.00 per month (plus $10.00 for the extra IP address). It’s really hard to not get mad at the CSRs who are on the front line of consumer angst – it’s not their fault that corporate made the choice to take away our 25gb and still charge the same price. It’s even harder to not get mad when they tell us about the extra data packages we can buy – why should we have to pay more money to get back the data limits we already had?
Let’s look at Shaw’s extra data plans, just for the fun of it. These are the options we have, with Shaw’s claims that “the more data you purchase, the more you save – data as low as 20 cents per GB.”
* 10 GB for $5.00 per month
* 60 GB for $20.00 per month
* 250 GB for $50.00 for month
So an extra $10.00 per month will almost put us back to where we were before the case of the disappearing 25gb, but again, I reiterate – why should we have to pay extra for what we already had. We received no advance notice of the cap decrease, and we certainly didn’t receive a decrease in fees. There has been much discussion of late on various community forums, most notably on Broadband Reports , and the discussion is not of a happy tone.
Yesterday afternoon we were sitting at 113.96gb transfer, 13.96gb over our cap. This morning we were at 116gb – that’s with the Cavechild not being home all day Saturday, light computer use, and about 6 hours of playing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood on the 360 (intense de-stressing treatment). It will be interesting to see what we use up today, with the Cavechild being home and gaming, on top of my using the ‘net to write this as well as uploading files to our server. Oh, and to clarify, we have three IP addresses because we have three heavy-use computers, all of which also have their own secured wireless for two laptops (three when my daughter is here), two Xbox 360s, a Wii, a DS, an iPod Touch and an all-in-one wireless printer.
Another option that Shaw suggests to its customers is upgrading to the next plan level. For us, that would mean going with Nitro, which is $97.00 per month for 175gb of transfer and our upload/download speeds could increase. Between Extreme-I and Warp there is a difference of $50.00, which in reality we could just use to buy the 250gb data package – that makes sense, right? We certainly wouldn’t be purchasing the Nitro plan, which has a very attractive offering of 350gb transfer per month, a blazing 100 Mbps download speed and 5 Mbps upload speed – but we’d still have to pay for that third IP address. That is – we could have the Nitro option if it was available in our area with its low price point of $150.00, which it isn’t.
Going back to our phone calls with Shaw yesterday – the second  phone call was a simple removal and realignment of some of our digital channels, because while we can add to our Digital TV channels through Shaw’s site, we can’t remove them. The CSR I spoke with on this call was also affected by the cap decrease, as she also suffered from 25gb of missing transfer allowance. It would be nice if we could just completely remove the channels we definitely never watch, like the French ones that our language laws require be offered in every home (sorry, Quebec), Speed, E!, Cosmopolitan TV and The Shopping Channel, along with a few others we simply don’t watch. About the only time we watch Spike is for the Video Game Awards, and if the quality of that show doesn’t improve, we won’t be watching that anymore either. If the cable companies can micro-manage what digital channels we do or don’t have, why can’t we have full choice for options on plans involving Digital TV? But I digress from the internet issue.
While searching around on Shaw’s web site for something – I can’t remember now what it was, but that happens when one gets older – I ended up skimming through some of Shaw’s previous Annual Reports from the long-past 1990’s, and it was interesting to see what the company’s outlook  was at the end of the last century, when the report states that the company’s revenue increased almost four fold over the previous year:
Television – Industry Outlook: The cable industry is moving from a highly regulated environment to one based on fair and sustainable competition.
Internet – Industry Outlook: The Internet industry provides one of the most dynamic opportunities for growth in the new millennium. Internet analysts expect that the growth of the Internet and e-commerce is a global megatrend that will revolutionize the way we communicate, learn, gather information and conduct transactions – this is truly a paradigm shift of monumental proportions.
Goals and Strategies:
• To be a market leader by providing consumers with superior value through high-speed Internet access,
broadband content, exceptional service and affordable monthly cost
• Maintain market leadership including the launch of Web-enabled interactive TV and other Internet-protocol based communications services
• To leverage off the existing and future cablesystem infrastructure 
Also in 1999, Shaw “completed significant network upgrades to enable two-way cable transmission for the delivery of high-speed Internet access, impulse pay-per-view, Web-enabled interactive TV and bi-directional service.”
I just found out where our 25gb went. In looking at an old “Benefits ” statement from Shaw – the original file name had “0607” in it, so it’s possibly from 2007, but the Nitro transfer limit is listed as 150gb, and in the current packages listing, it’s 175gb. There are no limits stated for the “lesser” packages, though – I find this somewhat telling, don’t you? Nitro got a cap increase while all of the other plans got data transfer limits lowered.
Skipping forward about a decade, in Shaw’s 2008 Annual Information Package , the corporation was touting the wonders of its internet service, presumably to its shareholders and executive body.
“Since 1996, Shaw has provided Internet access services to residential and small business subscribers in its cable television systems via a cable connection and cable modem. It currently offers four levels of Internet service: High-Speed Internet, High-Speed Lite, High-Speed Xtreme-I and High-Speed Nitro. The High-Speed Lite service is targeted at users who do not require the features and speed (bandwidth capabilities) of Shaw’s High-Speed service but who are interested in alternatives to dial-up services. High-Speed Xtreme-I offers significantly increased download and upload speeds for customers who download large files or visit online gaming and content-rich multimedia sites. High-Speed Nitro was launched in fiscal 2007 and remains one of the fastest Internet services in Canada.”
And a little bit further in the document:
“In providing its Internet access services, Shaw deploys an advanced generation of cable modem, based on Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 2.0 specifications. This technology has enabled it to increase the capabilities and reliability of its network by increasing the capacity and throughput in both the upstream and downstream portions of Shaw’s cable infrastructure. As a result, the capacity of the Corporation’s network in the downstream direction has increased to up to 40 megabits per second and in the upstream direction up to 30 megabits per second, representing approximately five times the capacity of pre-DOCSIS cable modems. The DOCSIS standard is continually being improved and Shaw plans to implement future versions on its network to meet customers’ increasing speed and capacity demands.”
So the above says all kinds of wonderful things about the service Shaw provides to Canadians, and in some cases to Americans through its Business Connect branch. Great – this awesome news makes all of us feel so much better.
I then switched my focus over to the even drier Terms and Conditions  page – where they tell you tons of things you don’t need to know, and tons of stuff you should know, and even where they say they are supposed to notify you of any policy changes. Well – at the top of the page it states “Last Updated on December 15, 2010.” I didn’t get an email stating that there had been policy changes or what those changes were, did you? Considering this appears to be around the time that transfer allowances seem to have been dropping, maybe they were hoping that by not sending out the policy change notice, attention wouldn’t be drawn to the shrinking caps. Then of course I started to doubt my memory, wondering if maybe Shaw did send out an email and I’d somehow missed it. Well, according to the irate people on Shaw’s Facebook page , no notice was sent out and the people representing Shaw on the page aren’t quite being truthful – and they are being called to task for it.
Scott and I started looking closer at all of the plans that are available – and various scenarios that could be open to us. At first we thought we’d look at the possibility of running the in-home server plan – we could save the money we currently pay out to Softlayer every month for our dedicated server and have more control over the server itself. The in-home server plan is $301.95 per month plus $100.00 installation – with only 200gb of transfer. Seriously? Only 200gb for a web server? Okay, that option is out for us, because we would burn through that in no time between our internet usage and people visiting our sites; we currently enjoy 2000gb of transfer with Softlayer – which reinforces what I said last week as to why our server is located in the USA and not Canada, because the transfer bandwidth offered on Canadian dedicated server hosting plans is incredibly low and expensive. As it is, any business taking Shaw up on the included bonus of hosting your company web site with them is apparently limited to 2gb of transfer per month. I guess that would work for a site that is pure text and has few images and absolutely no multi-media on it, because it certainly wouldn’t work for us.
Next option was to get Nitro (if and when it becomes available here) and using that to watch TV, but as Scott pointed out, not all of the shows we watch are available through network web sites, and we wouldn’t be able to PVR what we miss when we’re out at industry events.  Of course then our subscription fees wouldn’t be going to support the Canadian stations we have in our digital line-up. The fees do benefit the individual channels, right?
Option number three is business internet. All Shaw Business accounts have a $100.00 installation fee, no exceptions. That’s a negative point for us. Extreme for Business would cost us an extra $30.00 per month and would only get us an extra 10gb per month. But hey! We could have up to 5 dynamic IP addresses as opposed to our three static addresses. In reality, this isn’t a viable option for us either.
Now, something I noticed in the Terms and Conditions, where it lists all of the internet plans and transfer caps, is that some of the plans can’t be found on Shaw’s web site through direct links. Two that come immediately to mind are the SOHO and Entrepreneur plans. They are still listed in the sidebar if you click through to read about PowerBoost , but you can’t click the titles any more. So those have been taken away as well? Just two weeks ago I was talking with a Shaw Business rep because we’re looking at changing over the service at my day job from Telus to Shaw, and he said the Entrepreneur package would probably be the right plan for that office. Well, now I want to look at the plan, and both SOHO and Entrepreneur are no longer anywhere to be found on the Shaw site – even though I’ve looked at them before. I just noticed as well that the person who typed up the new terms and conditions for bandwidth usage must have been in a hurry, because he or she made a typing mistake.
I also noticed that residential customers are not allowed to conduct commercial activity on their connections. Does this mean that all those who telecommute are in violation of their terms? Are we in violation because we operate a server in the USA (even though our business is built on Canadian content and doesn’t earn anything as of yet) or because we get work-related emails at our home email addresses? I hope not, because I’m already feeling like we’re getting the short end of the stick in regards to the money we’re paying out every month and the limits being imposed on not just us, but any Canadian individual or business who is trying to embrace the technologies of our time and future.
I know that by now some of you are asking why we don’t simply change our service to Telus. Easy – because I am not signing a contract, and their customer service is horrible. We’ve always had a good experience in dealing with Shaw for all issues aside from this one, even when they make small mistakes like the one I mentioned above, in disabling that pesky third IP address. It was happily and quickly fixed without issue – and we’ve never yet had to deal with a CSR who was grumpy or didn’t have a sense of humour. Primus and TekSavvy are not available in our area, and Uniserve’s plans aren’t any better than Shaw’s plus their over-cap fee is higher.
I could probably continue on this tangent for the rest of the day, and I know that as soon as I hit the “Publish” button I’ll remember something else I wanted to say, but it’s getting time to put the roast in the oven for our weekly Sunday family dinner and my daughter will be showing up soon, so I must conclude today’s rant by saying that I would really be appreciative if Industry Canada would call the whole telecomm issue into question, including the operations of the CRTC and its seemingly glaring conflict of interests. It appears that the whole telecomm provider mess, including cell phone fees, are going to become a major area of contention for the next election. I have long been a supporter of our local Conservative MP, Mark Warawa, because I like him as a person and I appreciate the job he has done in Ottawa – and I truly hope that the Conservatives will opt to work for a Digital Canada and propel our country into Digital Leadership, because we as a nation certainly have the talent, the innovation, the creativity and the products to make it so.