The New Shaw Reality – Bandwidth caps: How this came to be

Editor's note: This is article #2 about Shaw's new bandwidth caps.  For article #1, please click here I received such a large response to my first post about the new Shaw Bandwidth caps, that I feel that I need to write more. I have had many questions, suggestions, and comments from people who want to know more, or have asked me to talk about certain things, and I am happy to oblige. This is the first of two more articles, the next one will talk specifically about how to monitor your bandwidth, but for now, I want to talk about how this came to be, and expand a bit more on my previous article.

Is Shaw The Only One Doing This?

If you’re in western Canada you may be surprised to learn that no, Shaw is not the first. Bell and Rogers, who are the big Internet Service Providers(ISP) in eastern Canada already have caps on their plans. Some smaller regional ISP’s are also starting to put limits on it’s users, because Bell and Rogers, who they usually lease network infrastructure from, are starting to place limits on them.  Not all regional ISP’s have these limits on their plans.

How Does Shaw Compare To The Other Providers With Caps?

To be totally honest, I’ve learned a lot as I’ve looked up my information for these articles. Shaw actually compares favorably to Rogers, and actually provides a bit more when compared to Bell at similar price points. So are Shaw’s limits exactly revolutionary?  No. That still doesn’t make them good, and them doing this will only increase awareness of what other Canadians have had to face. And it should also help to increase the awareness that these limits at their current levels by all of the ISP’s does nothing but harm the general consumer in the long term.

What About Telus?

Telus’ website does state that they have a limit of 125GB/month on their internet plans. Several people have pointed that out to me, and one individual did tell me that he was told Telus does charge overages. However, every other piece of information that I have been able to find indicates that Telus does not currently enforce this limit. In my last article I referenced a CTV story where a Telus representative stated that Telus has no intention on enforcing any limits. You can find a video of that story here:

That being said, even if Telus does being to enforce their stated limits and charging people who go over, their limit is still higher than Shaw’s at a comparable price. That does mean that Telus is still a better option if both enforced their stated limits.

So How Exactly Did This All Come About?

In May of 2010, the Canadian Radio-television Communications Commission (CRTC) approved a Bell request that allowed Internet Service Providers (ISP) in Canada to move to a Usage Based Billing(UBB) model. This means that ISP’s can charge customers based on the amount of data they use, rather than an unlimited package for a fixed price. This is the framework that has allowed Shaw, Bell, and Rogers to begin capping and charging users. As stated Telus does have a stated limit, but does not currently enforce those limits.

Wait, Doesn’t Shaw own both a Cable business, and the TV Network on it?

Shaw is a very large company that now operates a TV Network (Global TV), a Cable TV business, and an Internet service. They also operate a home phone service, and will be launching a cellular network in 2011. Shaw is absolutely not the only company that is in this situation. Rogers owns the CityTV network along with its TV, internet, phone, and cellular services. Bell is waiting for CRTC approval to buy CTV.

Many people feel that having a single company own an entire channel of content, from the content itself, to the delivery method to the end user is a bad thing for consumers. Now, whether we like it or not this is the reality in Canada, and to be totally honest, I’m not completely against it. The simple fact is that there are not many companies in Canada big enough to effectively support the kind of infrastructure it takes to run all of those services. This is partly because of past practices made to limit competition in those spaces, but facts are facts now. There is very little avenue for new companies to come in and challenge, because the cost would be prohibitive. This type of problem exists even in the United States, where Comcast, a very large ISP and Cable provider is seeking regulatory approval to purchase NBC. Now, there are things that can be done to minimize the issues brought up by this, and to make the situation better, such as the CRTC putting conditions and restrictions on those companies. The CRTC is making efforts in this space. For example as part of Shaw purchasing Global TV, Shaw must ensure that it make Global TV available to its competitors cable networks at a competitive and comparable rate.

Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Could the CRTC do more? Yes. I think the system can work, as long as proper regulations are put in place to ensure that the landscape is as fair as it can possibly be.

But Shaw Hasn’t Been Completely Honest About This At All.

You’re right. Thanks to some helpful readers from the first article on this subject, I’m able to prove one of my favorite things of this whole situation. I mentioned that Shaw changed it’s Terms of Service on it’s website to reflect lower Bandwidth caps, but did not update revision date on the document. This means that Shaw edited the document without stating that it has been edited. The document changed, and they are trying to show that it hasn’t changed in months.

I am able to show this using a service by Google called Google Cache. Google Cache is a system in which Google stores older versions of web pages for archival purposes. This allows people to go back and see what websites looked like in the past.

The following is how the Shaw Terms of Service page read on December 16, 2010. The last updated date on the document is July 20, 2010.

· The guidelines for Bandwidth Usage/month for each service package are the following: Shaw High-Speed Lite — 13 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed — 75 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed Extreme — 125 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed Warp — 250 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed Nitro — 500 GigaByte

Now here are the Shaw Terms of Service read on January 9, 2011. Again, the last updated date on the document is July 20, 2010.

· The guidelines for Bandwidth Usage/month for each service package are the following: Shaw High-Speed Lite — 15 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed — 60 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed Extreme — 100 GigaByte;  Shaw High-Speed Warp Internet — 175 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed Nitro — 350 GigaByte

The link to the Google cache webpage is here:

And the current Terms of Service can be found here:

Now, this may be an oversight by whoever did update the page. Anything is possible. However, the simple fact that Shaw chose to update its Terms of Service in a manner in which is made to look like they haven’t changed in months is something that is very worrying. Many people would call such a move deceptive, and anti-customer. I hope that this error does get corrected very soon.

EDIT: Please note that as of January 13, 2011, the Shaw Terms of Service have been updated to show the revision date of December 15, 2010.  This change was made after the publishing of this article.

On a personal note I am glad to see that Shaw has corrected the error on the page.  I can only hope it was simply an oversight on their part.

What Happens if People Steal My Bandwidth?

Then you’re pretty much screwed. Do you have a wifi network that is not password protected? If you do, you should lock it immediately, for many reasons that go beyond bandwidth. But think about this. If you have a wireless network that is not password protected, anyone who can get within range of it, and the range is usually enough to reach a front sidewalk, or several apartments over, can access it and start using your internet connection. If that person wants to, they can start downloading anything they want, and it will count against your cap. This happens in most cases completely without the knowledge of the person who has the open wifi network. A person over the course of several days could download several hundred gigabytes and you would not know until you get your bill. This is a reality that still exists. Every time I go to an area with higher density houses, there are usually several wireless networks, most of them are completely open. This is something that will shock many people. Now, granted this is something that has nothing to do with Shaw, and is something it is completely up to the user to manage, but it becomes all that much more important.

So What’s Next?

As I have said, there are only a few things a person can do. The first is to live with the new caps, and hope that you do not go over. The second is to call Shaw to voice your concerns. And the third is to switch to another provider. Needless to say I am a proponent of at the very least calling Shaw to voice your concerns. As I stated in my previous article, please be respectful if you choose to contact Shaw. Calling and yelling and demanding they reverse their changes now will not solve any problems, especially if you are talking to a front line staff member who has no control over any of those decision that are being made.

At the end of the day, the moves made by Shaw, and most of the rest of Canadian ISP’s, do nothing except hurt the consumer. They are protectionist, and expose a company that is afraid of new content delivery systems taking away from their businesses. It hurts customers who don’t even know what bandwidth is. Shaw has decided to not inform its users of this change. And unless users read their bill line-by-line every single month, most will simply have no idea what is going on.  The most troubling thing about this is that this change likely will not have a big impact right away.  It won’t start to hurt users next month, or the month after.  This is something that might really come to a head several months from now as the internet usage of the general public goes up naturally.  As more people discover content sources that are internet based the usage will go up significantly. I’ve said a few times through two articles that I’m not completely against the ideas of bandwidth caps; however the methods that Shaw has used to implement this new system have left me discouraged and frustrated. To make a change to one of their biggest services without informing it’s customers is something that cannot be forgiven or excused. That is the single biggest reason why I am upset about this process. Shaw is putting an already controversial system into place, and doing so this quietly only makes them look worse.