This November will mark 20 years of my having access to the internet. And since that fateful night of discovering a service that would change my life completely, bringing me new avenues of accessing knowledge and entertainment, of communication with others, and a way of making a living anywhere, I have had to fight against Canada’s competition laws that give our tiny handful of ISPs too much power. Because there is no competition, there is absolutely no motivation to improve and expand services, and they can charge whatever they want.
I started my internet journey in this country with dial-up, as so many people did. That meant that as soon as phone service went down, so did internet access.
From 2003 to 2007, I lived in a rural community north of Ottawa, in the heart of cottage country. The best internet service I could get was 26Kbps dial-up, fully half of what dial-up service was just a few kilometres from my house. There were no plans to expand service. A local entrepreneur living in the nearest village, which had DSL broadband, had the bright idea of setting up a bunch of repeaters throughout the area so that folks like me outside of coverage could have broadband internet. All the data being used was paid for. He didn’t steal anything. Well, Bell made sure to shut him down. He had no legal recourse because of the competition laws. Never mind that he was offering a service they would not provide and that he was paying them for all the data used. I checked recently and if I still lived in that house in Quebec I would still have only 26Kbps dial-up internet and no cell service.
There were a lot of issues with the phone lines to my community and so service would go out frequently. I lost service once ahead of a massive incoming snowstorm and wanted to make sure that I could call out if needed, so I placed a service call and rated it as an “emergency.” Bell punished me for that by not fixing my service for a full two weeks (10 business days) and the guy who did the “repair” messed it up. I ended up having to fix his mess since I didn’t want to wait another two weeks (so a full month with no phone or internet service) for a repair on the repair.
In 2007, I moved to Gatineau, a large city, and was excited to have broadband internet. After 11 years of dealing with Bell, I was ready to try anyone else and moved on to Vidéotron, who were even worse in terms of customer service. Their catalogue of horrors is long enough to write a book, and I was only with them for 18 months! One of my favourite stories is that my neighbours who shared a wall were moving and asked to have their service turned off. Vidéotron turned mine on instead, said it would be up to two weeks before they could turn it back on, and that I would have to pay a $90 reconnection fee. I fought that fee until until 2009, 18 months after I canceled my service with them.
Another thing they did was that they offered an unlimited plan and then, after a few months, decided to put a 100GB cap on the “unlimited” accounts. Well, there is a silver lining to this story. Customers, including myself, filed a lawsuit against Vidéotron and… we won. The judgment came out in the last year. But, of course, it is under appeal so I doubt I will ever see a payout.
And then, I hit the road. While most of the rest of the world, even many countries in the so-called “third world” have super fast and inexpensive mobile bandwidth, Canada was slow to get on board with that idea. In 2008, there was no point in even considering cellular internet since it was super expensive and service was spotty. But within the next year or so, Canada’s various telecom providers got together and in a fit of madness upgraded cellular service across the country, with towers popping up like mushrooms. I got really excited about this, thinking that Canada was finally going to catch up with the rest of the world. And then, I saw the rates and plans.
These rates and plans really haven’t changed much over the last seven years. You’re looking at about $70 to $80 a month with Bell and Telus for 5GB of bandwidth on your phone (dedicated hot spot devices do a little better). I paid Telus $80 a month for several years for my 5GB and an additional $55 per GB. But, hey, at least I had decent speed internet almost everywhere. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and all that.
In 2011 to 2012, I dealt with hard wired Telus while I was in Lethbridge, both with my own personal account and with internet access in my buildings in general. Their tech support did shoddy work, they refused to replace their own poorly installed wiring, and they couldn’t figure out why I was upset that I wasn’t getting the speeds I was paying for since “at least [I had] service.”
When I moved to Saskatchewan, I went back to Bell because they had the best rate for a mobile hot spot. I have to be fair and say that other than the rates being highway robbery, they gave me good service, especially from a technical point of view, replacing my hot spot repeatedly even when it wasn’t on warranty. But I was paying something like $120 a month for 12GB of data and $10 per GB after that. I use a lot of bandwidth for my transcription business and my internet bill was somewhere around $250 a month.
So I went to SaskTel, whom I discovered have an unlimited data plan.
Most of my readers are familiar with the issues I’ve had with the lack of service in my hamlet, well detailed over last summer, so I won’t rehash those details. But I will give an update.
I’ve had okay internet since I got home because of the heavy duty booster I installed last August. Service has been a bit flaky, but nothing like what I used to experience.
Until last night.
I hit my soft cap and I suddenly could not get internet on my computer anymore and only intermittent data on my phone. I thought there might be a service issue because of the weather, so I waited until this morning to call technical support. Thankfully, I got the Indian lady who knows what she’s doing so she walked me through all the steps of resetting my network settings, bla bla bla. She finally dug deeper into her questioning and pretty much went ha ha when I said that I had slooooooow data back on my phone after doing all that, but was having trouble with my computer.
SaskTel, in their infinite wisdom, apparently made some changes to discourage users from using their phone as a hot spot after hitting their soft cap. I guess those “changes” mean that your data service flickers on and off?
This is not a “you don’t have service and use a booster” issue. I’m experiencing it even up in the cow pasture where I don’t need a booster. This is definitely an account-level issue.
Again, I am paying for unlimited data and my ISP is making it difficult for me to use data. Didn’t another ISP get its ass whooped in court for doing that?
My contract with SaskTel was up in February and I thought of signing a new one to essentially finance a newer iPhone through them (did the math with a service rep and even if I don’t use the service, I wouldn’t be paying much more for the phone over that time than if I paid for it cash today). Moving to a new contract would mean having to move to their new unlimited plan at $120 a month ($40 more than I pay now), but which would give me 15GB of “high speed” internet before being throttled, rather than 10. I thought that this would be worth it, until today. Now, I can’t wait to call SaskTel in a few weeks and tell them to go fuck themselves. Pardon my French. I’m really not sure what I’ll do when I get back to Haven next spring, but knowing that there’s no internet here means that I’ll just be that much more motivated to get my Mexico visa sorted out and start packing up.
So that’s twenty years of dealing with Canadian telecom bullshit and I’ve just had enough now that I’m seeing that this is not “normal.”
My experience with TelMex in Mexico has been the complete opposite. I heard so many negative things about them and yet they have been nothing but customer-oriented, going so far as to send technical help after dark to restore my service after an outage. I didn’t pay them, but finally found out that my landlady was paying about 350 pesos (about 27CAD) a month for unlimited 5Mbps service. I haven’t researched internet prices in all the hardwired communities in Canada, but I’m pretty sure no one is paying less than $30 a month for unlimited and reasonably fast internet.
Mexico also has tons of free WiFi hotspots that anyone can use. It took me until the middle of my second winter on Isla de la Piedra to learn that if my internet went down, I should go to the school and see if their WiFi was up since it was from a different service provider. When in Mazatlán and Mérida, I could sit on a bench in pretty park and use free WiFi instead of mobile bandwidth. And mobile bandwidth in Mexico is less expensive than in Canada, especially if you have a plan instead of doing the pay-as-you-go Amigo route. Even that isn’t a bad deal since some sites, like Facebook and Twitter, are free to use.
I’m also researching mobile bandwidth in Europe, especially Bulgaria, since I will be heading there shortly. One of the reasons why Bulgaria came to the top of my list is its world ranking for internet access, penetration, and prices. A few years ago, it was 3rd in the world, with Canada somewhere around position 130… I’ve had many people assure me that if my apartment is not hard wired, I’ll be able to rely on mobile bandwidth without going broke. I’ve started to do my research on that and am finding that basic mobile pay-as-you-go plans start around $15 for 20GB of high speed data. Bell and SaskTel offer 12GB of high speed data for $120.
“Move back to civilisation” is not an acceptable response to my internet issues at Haven. I live in civilisation and, in fact, I’ve been to truly remote locations that have internet access. Moving to a more populated area will in no way guarantee that I won’t keep butting up against Canadian telecom providers, as illustrated above. This is the 21st century and internet access should be a given. Instead, ISPs treat internet access as a giant favour they are granting to the Canadian populace. Also, our rates are some of, if not the, highest in the developed world.
I’m tired of living in a country that exists in the past. I have a lot more reasons for wanting to emigrate, but the internet situation really covers them all. It represents the government’s short-sightedness and unwillingness to grow with the times. It represents the Canadian populace’s general apathy and willingness to settle for scraps.
I am a digital nomad of the 21st century. Canada not only limits my mobility within my own country, but keeps me from earning a living while taxing me to death. I’m just done with being here. My eyes are wide open at the kind of world I’m going and I’m ready for some new challenges.