Tuesday 18 November 2014

St. Joseph Island Resident Successfully Engages Bell

Paul Gregory of St. Joseph Island has given me permission to release the story of his recent dealings with the broadband primary vendors who serve the area. For the most part I have let Paul tell the story in his own words.

Note that Paul followed the four P's of dealing with any telecom company - be Persistent, be Polite, be Prepared and be Persuasive.

Here is his story.

Before the new Bell towers went in I had a Rogers rocket hub which got a very poor signal. I had the 20 GB for $90 data plan but my speed was roughly 0.1 to 0.5 Mbps. Not really a broadband net connection at all. It was just painful. 

I contacted Rogers by phone and explained that I was paying for a service that they were not providing at a speed which was acceptable. They did a little technical work and told me that I was roughly 13 km line of sight from the one and only Rogers tower in Desbarats[1] that my hub could connect to.  The technical guy was frankly surprised that I got any connection at all.  

To be fair to Rogers they did offer something of a solution.  They offered to buy me out of my remaining Rocket hub contract ($90 cancelation fee) and cover the deactivation fee ($12.50) if I returned the hub to them at my cost. I jumped at the chance and since the Bell towers were just coming on line I headed down the station mall to the Bell Store with high hopes of getting the same $90 for 20 GB deal but with a better signal (and therefore speed)[2]

I specifically told Bell that I was looking to use this hub as my sole fixed physical Internet connection point and that I wanted the cheapest, fastest and largest data plan that they had available. I was told that the Flex 60 plan was the best that they had on offer. So on 23rd Sept 2014[3] I signed a two year contract and took home my new turbo hub. 

All was as expected, I got great speed (11 Mbps peak with consistent 10.5 Mbps) and it was basically night and day with the dross signal that I had been dealing with from Rogers. However I burned through 36 GB in 15 days and could feel a big overage bill heading my way! About $180 in overages costs in 15 days. Not sustainable. 

Then my next door neighbour told my wife that he had got a flyer in his post box about some new Bell Internet deal. I didn't get a flyer. If he had not told my wife that he did I would have been none the wiser about Bell Wireless Internet 5 (BWI5) even today. Trust Bell to keep the customer informed as to the best available deals open to them...[4]

So I rang (416) 807 1498 and spoke to a girl called Mina who told me about a secret data plan[5] and hub that was not available through the Bell Store network and was not advertised on the Bell website. When I googled Bell Wireless Internet 5 I got some information about Bell Fibe 5. It was clearly not the product that she was talking about. I only half believed that she even worked for Bell. The whole thing just felt too good to be true. Could this be a con to get my MasterCard number?

Anyway, I ordered a hub and paid full price and went month to month on the data plan.  It arrived about 12 days later and booted up without issue and worked straight out of the box before the tech could even come out and fit the external antenna. Without the antenna I got a great signal, with the antenna better still. But the speed was only 5.5 Mbps.  Was somebody throttling me?[6] More phone calls to Bell led to the conclusion that that was the case. I was essentially being offered a trade off. 11 Mbps and prohibitive cost or 5.5 Mbps and 40 GB for $50. This is a no brainer for my situation. So much so that I ordered a second BWI5 hub and data plan to match the first. 80 GB for $100 would do the job and I could live with the speed (in the absence of any real choice).  

Now what about this two year contract for the hub and Flex 60 plan that I don't want, should not have been sold in the first place and I have no intent on using further as it is way too expensive?

I felt I had been mis-sold but I could see this going either way. Bell might make me eat the cost of everything or they could come good and cover the whole thing and apologize for making such a poor job of selling me the right product. Guess what happened next. 

On the first round of phone calls I was getting nowhere. I had signed a contract and the Bell store employee had advised me as best as his training and knowledge allowed. On the next round of calls they could see my point of view and were prepared to 'meet me half way' and let me cancel the Flex 60 and keep the hub (it was no use to me as it does not work with the BWI5 data plan) but I would still need to pay half of the contract cancelation fees ($~90). I took this offer and cancelled the contract. It was costing me $60 a month just to have the hub sat in its box unused anyway. The quick a stopped the bleeding the better. 

Then I made a third round of phone calls. This was breakthrough time. I got through to a supervisor / manager (it is quite hard to understand the rank structure within Bell) who could see that Bell were already on the back foot. They could see that they had put me in the wrong product and were holding me to a contract which made no sense for me to ever have been advised to sign. Maybe they could feel a complaint to the CRTC pending. 

I was told that if I returned the hub to Bell at my cost ($26) they would forgive all of the remained cancelation fees for the Flex 60 plan and it would be like it was all a bad dream. I said yes and got down the post office as quick as I could. 

I have yet to see the adjustments on my bill confirming that Bell have done what they said they would.  But I am hopefully that I have got myself into the right and best available product for my requirements. Unless Bell are hiding an even cheaper faster larger plan from us all in Algoma?

(Fighting) Bell is hard work and some might say that that is how Bell likes it.  A customer needs to be calm and persistent to get the best out of them.  I did not find ADnet until after I had made the third round of calls to try and get some satisfaction from Bell. If I had found your site sooner I would have felt less alone and better informed as to what was out there for customers. 

[1] The nearest Rogers tower is actually north of Bruce Mines.
[2] A better signal is only one of the factors that affect speed.
[3] The BWI5 plan was available at this time but not sold through the Bell Stores.
[4] Many people did not get the marketing material. Based on my discussions with Bell, I am very suspicious their database is not very accurate. I was told they are using Google Maps as a primary source.
[5] I believe secret is too strong a word; poorly advertised and poorly explained to local Bell Store CSRs. There has been stories in both the national and local media as various times over the past ten years. Nevertheless, I believe Paul is correct in implying that Bell did not want the rate package to become well known at a time when they were charging other clients using the same infrastructure up to 10 times as much.
[6] Yes the service is "throttled" but is "throttled" in accordance to the speed stated they would provide for the BWI5 service.   True throttling would occur if Bell throttled the speed below the 5 Mbps. See the CRTC regulations on traffic management practices.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Connecting Canadians - Digital Canada 150 ISP Application Process

The federal government announced on 15 Oct 2014 that eligible Internet Service Providers (ISP) can now apply to extend or enhance high-speed Internet[1] service to areas in need across the country. As part of the Connecting Canadians initiative, the target of the subsidy program is to connect 280,000 homes to the Internet.[2] See this blog entry  for basic information about the program.

Interested ISPs have until 12 January 2015 to submit their applications. Industry Canada (IC) expects to make the first announcement of successful applicants in the spring of 2015.

ISPs can receive up to 50% of eligible project costs for expenses  in rural areas and up to 75% for expenses in remote (Far North) and Aboriginal communities. 

According to the IC release, "Successful ISPs will be expected to provide services at speeds of at least 5 megabits per second (Mbps) to Canadians in rural areas of the country that currently have slower access and 3 to 5 Mbps in the satellite-dependent communities served under the northern component of the program." While likely not the intent of the program, this seems to leave out areas that do not have any access. 

Industry Canada also released an application tool kit (ATK). The ATK contains all the necessary background and application information need by the ISPs to prepare their submissions.

The ATK provides excellent  templates that require the ISPs to provide detailed information about their proposals in the areas of (1)Internet Service Offerings (2) Network Capacity and Equipment (3) Project Budget Costing (4)  Broadband Subscriber Estimates (5) Environmental Assessment Screening and (6) Lobbyist Declarations.

If I were preparing a RFP (Request for Proposals) or RFI (Request for Information) for Communications and Technology (ICT) services, I would definitely consider adapting these templates into my document. 

A review of the actual application document leads to interesting observations.

The application identifies the following as potential solution types :

(1) Cable (2) DSL (3) Fibre (4) Satellite (5) Mobile Wireless (6) Fixed Wireless (7) Other

The definition of what the applicant proposes to deliver is rather loose in that it does not indicate whether the speeds mentioned are burst speeds, consistent speeds, peak time speeds or any other parameters and metrics that ensure a superior quality of service.  In the Internet Service Offering template, a column heading uses the term "Advertised Speed". I consider this avoidance of a more definitive identification of the speed that an end user may expect a lost opportunity.

This is the quote from the application form.

"The applicant must demonstrate that the proposed technological solution will support broadband[3] connectivity, defined as speeds at least 5.0 Mbps download and 1.0 Mbps upload (3.0 Mbps download and 512 kbps upload for the Northern Component) to underserved households in the underserved area.

"A settlement certified by a project technical authority confirming the ability of the technological solution to deliver the minimum download and upload speeds is required to meet this eligibility criterion." 

Similarly, the application allows the IPS to establish their own data caps in their proposal. In many  of the sample cases the data caps are far below the average monthly downloads as identified in the in the annual CRTC Telecommunications Monitoring Report referenced in this blog entry.  At a time when the projected increased in data transfer by users is increasing at a two-digit rate, these cap limits are rapidly becoming unrealistic.  A more realistic approach would require applicants to commit to tying their data caps to the annual CRTC statistics.  

There is a section in the application which addresses the five-year outlook and scalability that asks the ISPs to describe how the network will handle forecasted network capacity including additional subscribers and usage traffic, enhanced services and the network's ability to adapt to increased speed demands. However, there is no mention of data caps.

Maps are available for download on the Connecting Canadians website that purports to show what areas identified with "households that do not have access to service at 5 Mbps." I have serious reservations as to the accuracy of the information associated with these maps. It is a fact that many of the areas in the Algoma District identified as unserved have access to terrestrial based service in excess of 5 Mbps.    

Overall, the application process looks comprehensive from a business perspective. I would like to have seen more stringent technical parameters for the proposed service.  

[1] While the CRTC implies a distinction between high-speed and broadband, IC appears to be using the term as all-inclusive for anything that is not dial-up. 
[2] This is a bit misleading in that the program will provide the infrastructure necessary to allow access to the Internet. At this time, the cost of actually connecting to the Internet such as set-up charges, routers and modems if required and computers are the responsibility of the individual. In others words, while this program may address some of the physical digital issues, it does not seem to address the economic divide issues.
[3] Back to broadband - not high-speed. 

Wednesday 1 October 2014

CRTC Communications Monitoring Report 2014

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) released information on the telecommunications sector from the 2014 Communications Monitoring Report on 25 Sep 2014.
This is an annual report covering multiple aspects of the Canadian  broadcasting and telecommunications sectors. The report is filled with data and statistic that only a nerd could love. Nevertheless it does contain some gems of wisdom which may be of use and interest to readers of this blog.
One striking  statistic is the huge  increase in the average GB downloaded and uploaded per residential Internet subscriber between 2012 and 2013. Only a few years ago the total were in the range of 12.3 GB (2008) and 14.8 GB (2010). These are the latest figures:

Annual Growth (%)
Average GB Download
Average GB Upload
Average Total GB Per Month

                        (Source: CRTC 2014 Communications Monitoring Report - Table 5.3.0)
One can only expect this trend to continue as the use of video and audio streaming to deliver Internet content continues to expand. Another source of data increase are constant software updates that may require repeated downloading of the same material for each appliance attached through the same modem or hub. For example if you have four computers in a residence, which is not uncommon, the infamous Microsoft Tuesday updates are downloaded four times and each download counts against your data cap.

The report contains figures that some users may find useful.   They show how long it takes in hours for a specific application to use up a monthly data cap. 

For example, a wireline connection watching Netflix at a "low"setting can use up a 100GB cap in  263 hours. Increase the Netflix setting to "Super HD" and the 100GB cap is reached in 91 hours.

For mobile broadband (data hub or smartphone) connections which usually have a lower cap and slower speed than a wireline connection the figures differ. For Netflix in "Auto" mode a 5GB cap is reached in 14 hours while You Tube in "HD-720p" mode a 5GB cap is reached in 4.2 hours. (Note: these are only examples and actual usage rates may vary but not substantially.) 

The original version of these figures can be found in the CRTC Monitoring Report, pages 189 and 190. The report is in .pdf format so the figures can be enlarged. (The figures below can be enlarged by using Ctrl-Plus sign and returned to the previous size by using Ctrl-Minus Sign.)

Number of usage hours before typical wireline broadband capacity thresholds are reached, by service

(Source: CRTC 2014 Communications Monitoring Report - Table 5.3.11)

Number of usage hours before typical mobile broadband capacity thresholds are reached, by service

 (Source: CRTC 2014 Communications Monitoring Report - Table 5.3.12)

Friday 26 September 2014

Deferral Account Marketing Material

Have all the Deferral Account areas' potential users  received their direct mail marketing material from Bell yet? 

I am also interested if anyone living outside the areas shown on these maps received a direct mail brochure.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Deferral Account Marketing Flyer

The Bell marketing flyer for the Deferral Account plan or the Bell Wireless Internet 5 (BWI5) in Bell-speak arrived in my mailbox today. It had my full mailing address on the front. This fact comes into play when identifying eligibility for the BWI5 package; see more below.

The marketing flyer had a website link as www.bell.ca/betterspeeds and a phone number as 1-866-809-7060.

The website is nearly identical to the marketing flyer. One difference is the marketing flyer has the following note printed on it:

“Available to the recipient of this letter with the identical address.”

As indicated in previous blog entries, if you received a marketing flyer in your mailbox, you are definitely eligible for BWI5.If you do not receive a marketing flyer within a week or so, you may have a challenge on your hands. 

I found it interesting the Bell is targeting Xplornet as the competition in this marketing campaign.

The marketing flyer does state that an "External antenna is required." However there is no reference as to whether or not there is a cost for the external antenna. 

I had my external antenna installed today and there was no charge for either the antenna hardware or the installation. 

Saturday 20 September 2014

Deferral Account Price Structure from Bell Mobility

I have now received additional clarification from Bell Mobility concerning he Deferral Account program  plan price structure. 

Ms. Rose Tacconelli,  a Bell Mobility Consumer Direct Sales Help Desk & Escalations Supervisor provided the information.

A major revision of a number of the Bell Mobility rate plans in the July and August this year lead to confusion amongst the staff which resulted in the wide range of responses received from the Customer Service Representatives (CSR), particularly the Overage Insurance coverage costs.[1]

Bell Mobility calls the Deferral Account price plan “Bell Wireless Internet 5.” It can be ordered by calling 1-866-466-2453 (auto answer options 1,1,1)

Details of the plan are listed below. None of this information is available on the Bell.ca website.:

It is available on a 2 year term or on a 30 day term.

·         -  2 year term the price plan will cost $41.95 per month or $37.95 per month with the Bell Bundle [2]

·         - 30 day term the price plan will cost $36.95 per month or $32.95 per month with the Bell Bundle

The plan includes:
·         20 GB in basic plan
·         $4/GB for data over the basic 20 GB
·         Optional add-on $10/20 GB (This option is the so-called insurance. If you take this option you will be billed each month regardless of the amount data used.)  
·         Speeds up to 5Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload
·         No activation fee for 2 year term
·         $29.95 activation fee on 30 day term
·         $79.95 for the Turbo Hub on a 2 year term
·         $199.95 for the Turbo Hub on a 30 day
-      Includes an external antenna installed by Bell contractor at no charge.

If you run into problems ordering the plan, call Ms. Tacconelli. She normally works Monday to Friday 09:00 am to 5:00 pm. Her direct phone number is 905-282-3587. (Unfortunately, she does not have a toll free direct number.) She will ensure you are connected with a CSR who has received additional training on the Deferral Account plan. If necessary leave a message. I found she is very good about getting calls returned.

[1] The situation was exacerbated by the fact Bell Internet, a separate division from Bell Mobility, has a different set of Overage Insurance offerings that does include the $5.00 for 25 GB option.   (The fact that Bell Mobility and Bell Internet have completely different sets of overage rates is a separate discussion.)

[2] Only one Bell Mobility item allowed per bundle. i.e. you cannot have both a Bell Mobility smartphone and a Bell Mobility data hub in the bundle.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Bell Fixed Wireless Coverage in SSM and Elsewhere

Bell has expanded its Fixed Wireless Internet (FWI) service to include the Sault Ste. Marie (SSM) area.


The Bell FWI service operates in the LTE 2.3/3.5 GHz range. It provides high-speed Internet access with up to 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. It uses a 4G LTE Huawei B2268H Wireless Router that has an external unit and an interior unit.The basic monthly rate is $65.00 excluding taxes

The monthly data cap is 10 GB with overages set at $10 per GB There is also a one-time installation charge of $99.00. 
( As noticed 24 Jul 2015,  data caps and one-time installation charges are no longer identified on the  webpage.) 

This is the projected coverage area for SSM.

Other areas in the Algoma District getting this service to date are Elliot Lake and Iron Bridge/Blind River

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Antenna Installation for Deferral Account 17 Sep 2014

Just received a call this morning from the Crossover representative and made arrangements to install my DA antenna next week. 

First positive news in weeks. 

He said he had another 8 orders to date for installs in the area.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Bell Letter to CRTC Confirms DA Completion

The plot thickens.

On 29 Aug 2014 Bell submitted a report to the CRTC indicating they completed the Deferral Account implementation program effective that date.

Bell addressed the report to Mr. John Traversy, Secretary General, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. The report was signed for Bell by Jonathan Daniels, Vice President - Regulatory Law.

The letterhead indicated Bell and not Bell Mobility. The corporate name Bell Canada is used throughout.

Bell provided an abridged version of the submission for the public record and the CRTC posted a copy on their website. The information Bell considered proprietary or competitive in nature is redacted in the abridged version. Only information from the abridged public record version is cited here.

The first paragraph of the report reads as follows: (Highlights added by me.)

“We are pleased to confirm that as of 29 August 2014, the rollout of broadband services under our deferral account-funded broadband program to the remaining 43 communities identified in our 15 July 2014 status report has been completed.  Bell Canada has thus completed its rollout of the Deferral Account-Funded Broadband Program as all 112 of the communities that were approved for inclusion in this program are now served.

In case there was any doubt about the report’s subject, a footnote on page 2 states:

“For the sake of clarity, we note that the broadband services we refer to are the services we committed to provide in the communities that are part of our deferral account-funded program.”

Bell uses the term broadband services throughout the letter and also refers to these services as the “deferral account-funded broadband program”.

One would think when an organization responsible for a program claims to “completed its rollout” of a service or product, it means it is available to the users. This does not seem to be the case with this product based on the wide range of information, often negative, provided by the various Bell CSRs.

Based on the information in this letter to the CRTC, it hardly seems reasonable that Bell can continue to deny knowledge of the Deferral Account program.

Sunday 14 September 2014

Summary of Deferral Account Activity 14 Sep 2014

It has now been as little over three weeks since I announced in this blog entry that Bell had started taking orders for the Deferral Account program. What have we learned so far?  

Basic Plan

The basic plan costs $36.95 bundled and $41.95 per month (or billing period) and includes 20 GB of data transfer. This is consistent amongst all Bell Customer Service Representatives (CSR).


One supervisor pointed out that a bundle price could only apply to one contract within the four principle product categories - Mobility, Internet, TV, and Home Phone.  Since the Deferral Account plan was a Bell Mobility offering, it could not be bundled if the user already had a cell phone bundled with another product category such as TV or Home Phone. She could not provide a website reference when I pressed the matter but said it was "policy."

If this is indeed the policy, I guess it would be possible to remove a cell phone from the bundle and substitute the Deferral Account plan although I am not sure there would be any advantage as both offer the same $5.00 saving.

Data Overages

It is the charges for overages that vary from CSR to CSR. It is all over the place.

In some cases, a CSR made the user aware of various options while in other cases only explained one offer.  The chart below identifies the various offers as garnered from the comments sections of the blog entry referenced above. It also shows how many times a CSR offered each variant to users so far. It is obvious that more consistently is required in this area.

As previously mentioned, one  supervisor indicated  Bell replaced the $5 for 25GB plan with a $10 for 20 GB plan around 27 Jul 2014 along with another fixed wireless plan similar to the Deferral Account plan. She claimed this was the source of the confusion. How much credibility you place in this Bell originated avowal is up to you. 

Overage Charge Offer
Number of Users
Offered This Plan
Flat Rate of $4.00 per GB
$2.50 per GB to maximum $80.00
Insurance $5.00 MRC for 25 GB
Insurance $10.00 MRC for 20 GB

Antenna Installation

So far, I am not aware that anyone from Bell Mobility or Crossover, the designated Bell antenna installer according to the Bell website, has contacted any Deferral Account user to arrange for an antenna install. Many users have let Bell know they are not happy with this situation.

On the positive side, many users are having success operating their Turbo Hubs using the built-in antennas or connecting antennas previously installed for other hardware.

My experience is the down/up speed without an external antenna is consistently above 5/1 Mbps. I am located about 3.5 km from the Goulais (Pine Shores) site.

Marketing Material

The marketing material Bell promised the CRTC it would circulate before the 31 Aug 2014 has yet to make its way to the postal boxes. I guess this is one way to keep the congestion challenge under control - do not let anyone know the service exists!

Purchase or Not

Readers who have followed the blog over the years will know I usually recommend a user purchases hardware outright rather than sign a contract and get a reduced up front cost. I compared the two-year cost of both the no contract and two year contract options. Here are the results.

Data Hub Cost
Monthly Recurring Charge (MRC)
Total of 24 Monthly Payments (MRC x 24) + Data Hub Cost
No Contract
2 Year Contract

No contract Data hub price = $199.99.  MRC = $36.95. Two year total = 199.99 + (36.95 x 24) = 1,086.79

2 Year contract Data hub price  $79.95 MRC = $41.95 Two year total = 79.95 + (41.95 x24) = 1,086.75

The 2 year contract basically saves you the rate of inflation or around $4.