Tuesday 24 December 2013

Bell Deferral Account Report for Third Quarter 2013

Bell submitted the third quarterly Deferral Account update report to the CRTC on 15 Oct 2013. For some inexplicable reason, the CRTC released the public version of the report under a different file folder number than previous quarterly reports and it took some effort to locate it. 

For the uninitiated, there are two versions of the quarterly reports. A fully detailed report with actual facts and figures is submitted to the CRTC for internal use and a redacted report with most facts and  information which may be of interest to the public (or according to Bell – the competition) replaced by # signs.  This is allowed under terms of the Telecommunications Act and CRTC policy.

The actual statement of justification as used by Bell in their submission is:

“Release of this information would provide potential competitors with invaluable competitively-sensitive information that would not otherwise be available to them, and which would enable them to develop more effective business strategies.  Release of such information could prejudice Bell Canada's competitive position resulting in material financial loss and cause specific direct harm to Bell Canada.”

I have not figured out how not listing a tower location on a spread sheet prevents a competitor from seeing a 90 metre tower with cellular antennas that is visible from a public road and deducing some competitively-sensitive information.

Like previous reports, the latest one provides little actual information which can be applied to the Algoma District situation. The target date for completion of the project is still August 2014. It was possible to glean more information through backdoor resources and physical observation during drive abouts as noted in previous blog entries.

Apparently the CRTC also has concerns with the Bell reporting content. Consequently, in a letter dated 16 Dec 2013, they directed Bell to submit additional information in their reports as follows: 

“The Commission notes that there are still many activities to be completed within the next nine months and that, more specifically, construction of wireline transport backbone to 17 approved communities must be both started and finished within the first eight months of 2014 in order to meet the August deadline.

The Commission also notes that the Bell companies indicated in their July 2012 report that they needed to provide most consumers with an external antenna to deliver quality service. However, no update on this situation was provided in subsequent reports.

Consequently, the Commission directs the Bell companies, in their 15 January 2014 report, to
a) update their risk assessment and mitigation strategy for the last eight months of the rollout, and
b) provide a summary of any evaluations of the service quality delivered to consumers using the external antenna in deferral-account-funded communities.

Further, the Commission directs the Bell companies, beginning in their January 2014 report and continuing in subsequent quarterly reports, to refine their forecast for the period of January to August 2014 by

1. specifying, for each of the remaining communities, in which month 
a. the remaining towers are to be completed (column H) [1],
b. construction of wireline transport is expected to start (column J),
c. construction of wireline transport is expected to be completed (column K), and 
d. service will begin (column L), versus specifying a single date of August 2014 for all communities; and

2. providing a summary of the number of new towers forecasted to be completed in 2014, by month.

Additionally, in their subsequent quarterly reports, the Bell companies are to identify where any changes have been made to the forecasted month for each of the items in 1. above.

Unfortunately, I suspect the information of true interest will be marked by a # in the public documents. 

The next quarterly report is due on 15 Jan 2014

[1] The reference to columns refers to columns in the Bell report spreadsheet headings.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Bell Data Hub Overages and the Wireless Code

I have been exchanging e-mail with a user in East Algoma about the high cost of Bell data hub service.  He was getting monthly bills in the $200.00 - $350.00 range for a 4 user household with a mix of computers and smartphones.   All the hardware used the data hub’s WiFi capability when they were within range.

Of late, he was getting cutting off at $100.00 overage and had to contact Bell to get reconnected.

Needless to say, he was not happy with both the price and the procedures.

I received the following info from him recently:

“I just received my Dec Bell bill and low and behold the max charge for data over 10 GB is $50.00.
We used $197 worth and they only charged $50 for that and waived $147.50.
Our bill for the month is $96.05; Relief finally.
I was suspicious and call them. It’s due to the CRTC Wireless Code.”  

This is the section of the Wireless Code that would seem to apply in this case:

          Sec 3 - Cap on data overage charges

        A service provider must suspend data overage charges once they
      reach $50 within a single monthly billing cycle, unless the customer 
      expressly consents to pay additional charges.

      A service provider must provide this cap at no charge.

My interpretation of this section was that once the cap was within reach during a billing cycle, the vendor would contact the user, normally by e-mail or SMS, notify them of the cap limit coming into force and warning this would result in a cancellation of service until the end of the billing cycle unless the user gave explicit permission to charge additional overage fees.

Indeed, this is what was happening prior to 02 Dec 2013 when the CRTC Wireless Code came into effect.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the January billing cycle.

If this is in fact the long term Bell policy for handling data hub overages, it will certainly be of tremendous benefit to rural broadband (high speed) Internet users.