Turning inner space into outer space

February 21, 2015

There are limits to Internet usage, and you may have to pay for exceeding them

If you thought you could save money by cutting the cable and switching to Netflix, there’s bad news — Telus has figured out a way to grab some of that money back.

You may be surprised to learn that your Internet plan has something called a bandwidth limit. This means you’re only allowed to download and upload so much stuff each month. The more you pay, the more you’re allowed.

If you’ve never heard of such a thing, it’s probably because even though bandwidth limits exist, they are seldom enforced. Generally speaking, Internet service providers turn a blind eye if you go a few gigabytes over the limit.

But Telus has decided to change that. If you go over the limit in your plan, they will charge you $5 for a “bucket” of 50GB. After that, the buckets cost $10 each to a maximum of $75.

They say that most people won’t be affected because they are already on an appropriate plan that keeps them safely below the limit. But looking at the data plans available from Telus, I’m not so sure.

Telus Internet 6, also known as High Speed, High Speed Enhanced and High Speed Extreme, has a monthly limit of 100 GB. According to this helpful explainer from Shaw, you can burn through 42 GB by watching just three two-hour HD movies a week on Netflix. For a cable cutter, this wouldn’t be at all unreasonable.

The Vancouver Sun notes that gamers will also be affected.

The new charge means online gamers will need to keep a close eye on their data usage. Most of the downloadable games for the new generation of consoles — Xbox One and PlayStation 4 — are in excess of 25 GB each.

As you can imagine, some Telus customers are not happy. According to the CBC, some are saying the new charges violate the concept of net neutrality.

They point out that watching Optik TV does not count as data even though it streams through the same fibre optic network as the Internet.

With net neutrality, all data should be treated equally, and customers should not be charged more for certain types of data. Telus could be seen as violating this principle by charging more for Netflix usage but not for its own Optik TV service.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has guidelines that side with net neutrality, but generally leaves it up to consumers to complain before taking action.

All eyes are now on other Internet service providers. Will they go for a boost in revenue by following the lead of Telus? Or will they differentiate themselves as the good guys who don’t charge more — potentially bringing in customers who have switched away from Telus?

Of course, if the switchers turn out to be a bunch of bandwidth hogs, as Telus claims, they may not exactly be welcome.