Shaw Delays Usage Based Billing Implementation–What Does This Mean?

Shaw today announced that it is going to, at least temporarily, suspend the service which would have enabled usage based billing on their internet plans. Usage Based Billing had gone into effect on January 1, 2011. For a more detailed explanation please see my article I wrote about this here.

In the press release, and on a page on the Shaw website, Peter Bissonnette, President of Shaw Communications, said: "We have been listening to the discussion taking place and determined that we want to hear directly from our own customers before we roll out any kind of program. Wherever we end up needs to work first and foremost for our customers."

Shaw will be conducting public consultation with its customers in it’s service area. Dates, times, and venues will be announced on February 14th.

[read] – Shaw press release

[read] – Shaw website

I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about what this really means. Now, I am pleased that Shaw is willing to at lest go through this process and listen to its customers. Obviously there has been enough of a negative response to this Shaw feels that it must at least try to salvage some positive PR out of this situation. I do commend them for doing this, as it does show that they are at least willing to listen.

Do I personally thing that this means they will stop the usage based billing altogether? In a word: no. Shaw launched a redesign of its website on February 7th, which includes a new data usage tool which is significantly more robust than the previous one. While I do not like the concept of the caps, I do think that Shaw has done a good job with this data usage tool on the new website. I highly doubt that they would have invested the resources into building this new tool for their new website unless they fully intend to go through with usage based billing.

So why have these public sessions? I think that it is so they can say that they have talked to their customers publicly about this new system. Shaw has been widely criticized by many, myself included, for it’s poor handling of the implementation of UBB. Doing this allows Shaw to save face and say that they have listened to their customers and gathered the feedback that the customers really wanted to give. I wish that they would have done this ahead of time, but at least they are offering this olive branch now.

While I am skeptical, and do not believe that this will change the fact that Shaw will put UBB in place in the end, I do believe that these public meetings can be good. If enough people voice their opinion, real change can be made. My ultimate wish is to have UBB overturned altogether. But I don’t believe that Shaw is willing to go that far, unless forced to by a massive outcry by its customers, or by legislation from government. Over 420,000 Canadians have signed a petition to stop UBB. That is not something that can be ignored. Perhaps if enough of those people speak up with Shaw, they will realize that this is something that is so un-popular with their customer base, they will not be able to go forward with UBB at all.

However, I am realistic. I said earlier that I fully expect Shaw to continue with UBB after this consultation process is over. While I completely disagree with UBB, we must deal with the most likely scenario. I have said in previous articles that I am not completely against the idea of usage caps; I am against the idea of unfair usage caps, which the current Shaw caps currently are. Shaw wants to punish the “heavy users” of today. What they fail to realize is that the heavy user of 2011 is the casual user of 2013. Or maybe they do realize that, and this is part of their plan. Either way, with internet usage trending up and while the current proposed caps of 60 and 100 GB may be adequate for most users today, it will not be soon. And what about the average family household with 4-5 internet users. As more and more people user the internet for more and more media rich activities, it will be nearly impossible for a household with more than one person to say under a cap of 60 or 100GB.

The real cost to Shaw is not the amount of data transferred, but how fast they can transfer it. I will talk more about this in a future article, but Shaw’s claims that bandwidth is limited and they can only transfer so much data is an exaggeration and a half truth. A cap of 60 or 100GB will do nothing to change Shaw’s overall service. Service providers in the United States that have put in service caps have limits of 250GB, because their goal is only to stop the true abusers of the system, not those who just want to watch a few movies or TV shows via legal services. If we must have UBB, let us have reasonable, realistic caps, not what we have now.

The way to make this happen is to get involved. We have an opportunity here. Shaw is counting on user apathy in these public consultations. If Shaw really values user feedback as much as they are indicating with this process, then it is up to its customers to make it actually have feedback to consider.  It is our responsibility to make this happen.  Be active, and let Shaw know that you are not happy.  Unless you do that, none of this matters.

The New Shaw Reality-Bandwidth caps: wrapping it all together

As of January 1 of this year, Shaw has implemented some very significant changes to it's internet pricing structure that is going to affect a great number of users in the future.  They have decided to place a cap on how much data every user can download per month, and are starting to charge overage fees for users go over.  This is going to have a massive impact on how people use the internet going forward, and almost none of it is good.  I have written three articles about this subject, trying to make it as simple as possible for people to understand, since the information coming from Shaw has not been very clear. Part 1 is by far the largest, and gives the majority of the details about what exactly is happening, what this will effect, and what you can expect. It also details how shaw has communicated this to users, or lack of that communication.

The New Shaw Reality - Bandwidth Caps

This article spawned such a large response to me that I was compelled to write a followup article with new and expanded details.  This article is a bit shorter, and more focused based on the feedback I was given.  It compares Shaw to other ISP's in Canada, how this situation was allowed to happen, and answers a couple questions that were most common in my feedback.

The New Shaw Reality - Bandwidth Caps: How This Came to Be

The last post talks a bit about how users can monitor their bandwidth, including the options from Shaw.  Admittedly this article may not be that clear or easy, but that says more about the state of how difficult it is to actually monitor your bandwidth than anything.  The short version is that it actually isn't easy to do, especially for situations with multiple users and devices that share one connection.

The New Shaw Reality - Bandwidth Caps: How Can I Monitor My Usage

What I have written is really only a small piece of this pie.  I wrote these mainly because as small bits of information that were getting out to the general public people that I know were asking me if I knew anything about it.  And I really didn't want to say the same story 100 times.  The response that I have received to these articles has been much larger than I thought they would be, and I think speaks volumes to the complete lack of information that has been available.  Shaw representatives have pointed out to me that they do have page on their website which does explain it, however the vast majority of users simply have no idea that such a significant change has been made to their service, and that is not right.

This issue is not restricted to just Shaw.  Most major ISP's in Canada now place limits on internet plans.  I learned a lot during this whole process and most of it is not good.  For information about the entire topic of Usage Based Billing, and the ISP limits in general, a great resource I have used is OpenMedia.ca, which has a lot of information about this subject, and is a definite read if you are looking for more information.  They have compiled most of the official news releases, and also try to explain the concept as well.  I also gathered information from other Shaw users on broadbandreports.com, where there is a user community that I gleamed the majority of the information for my first piece from.

As you read through this, please pass this information on to everyone you know who uses Shaw, or on a more general term anyone who uses Shaw, Rogers, or Bell in Canada, as this is an issue that affects them, and they may not know it.  Knowledge is power, and unfortunately there is simply not enough knowledge about this issue for the general consumer.

Tragedy at Big Valley Jamobree

Tonight another storm ripped through central Alberta. 2 weeks to the day after tragedy struck the city of Edmonton, a community just south of Edmonton was struck.

This weekend is the 17th annual Big Valley Jamboree. it is a massive outdoor event showcasing country music. When the storm hit, the winds, in excess of 100km/h tore apart the main stage, while a concert was going on. 1 person is dead, 4 are in critical condition, 4 more in serious condition. As many as 60 people were injured. News is still flowing in, but we know that the City of Edmonton dispatched Ambulances and the mass casualty truck to help. Considering the severity of the storm, the open air style of the Big Valley Jamboree, and the thousands of people that were there, it could have been much worse. While we can mourn the death of a person, we can be thankful there was only one death.

Once again, social media played a massive part in this story unfolding. However, sorting through the noise was almost as hard as the facts. One of the greatest advantages to twitter is the literal real time access to the news, however much of that news is not accurate. I saw people marking their posts saying a tornado hit, which is not true. I applaud the news agencies like Global TV and radio stations 630 CHED and iNews880 for doing their best to sort through the noise and report only the facts to us. Great job by them.

The web pages of 630 CHED and iNews 880 appparently have not weathered the storm very well. As of this posting, their websites are down, so I cannot link to the correct articles. I assume becuase of the excellent coverage they had so many people going to the website they just could not keep up.

Keep trying to go go www.630ched.com or www.inews880.com for their excellent coverage of this tragic event.

What a Storm

Last saturday an absolutely wicked storm blew through the Edmonton area. It was truly one of the most damaging storms I have ever seen. It was matched only by the massive storm that caused flooding few years ago. And while there was little to no rotation in the clouds, to many, the storm reminded them of Black Friday, when a Tornado touched down in the city in 1987.

The Clouds were easily the darkest I have ever seen. I had a wonderful view of the storm. I was over at a friend's condo that night. He lives in the river valley on the 7th floor of a condo building. He has a beautiful view of the river valley from which we could see the storm. The lightning was intense, and the wind was fierce. On the 7th floor balcony it was quite intense. I could feel the wind pushing me. I could see large tree limbs being pushed across the parking lots like they were pieces of paper. The first front passed by quickly.

The second front, about 45 minutes later, was not quite as windy, but it brought the rain. Easily the hardest rain I have seen in years. It came down very hard, very fast, and very large drops. Even with the patio doors closed while we were inside, we could hear the rain. That lasted for about 30 minutes. We never lost power there, but the lights flickered numerous times. While I was driving home, large portions of my trip home were dark, and without power. When I got home, it was obvious that the power had been out, probably for about 3 hours, and had just recently come on.

I did not take any really good pictures, however, many edmontonians did. Linked is the photo gallery from iNews880 of the damage that was done. Thousands of trees were destroyed, buildings damaged, the pictures really are amazing.

Once again, Twitter played a large role in this storm. There were many, many tweets during, and after the storm, pictures being relayed in real time, and first hand accounts being displayed in real time, as it was happening. This allowed coverage of the storm that simply would not have happened in the past, and is truly amazing. Also linked is Mack Male's blog where he talks more in depth about social media than I would. It's a must read.

[Read] - iNews880

[Read] - Mack Male's blog

Twitter and the media

Yesterday Lynda Steele of Global TV Edmonton posted to Twitter asking for suggestions on how the media can effectively use Twitter, and asked for anyone to email her with suggestions to take to a newsroom meeting today.  This, along with the recent rush of Edmonton media flocking to Twitter really got me thinking about Twitter, Media, and the news in general.  I spent some time thinking about it, and did send her my thoughts.  I thought that I would put some of them down here.

Twitter is about the community. specifically in Edmonton there are people from all walks of life, from every corner of the city, and even the entire Capital Region that use Twitter.  that is a powerful tool that, if used correctly, can greatly enhance the media.  I personally believe that the key to using Twitter is not to simply use it as another medium for delivering the same news, but to make it actually part of the news process.  Currently, Global TV Edmonton uses Facebook effectively in that many news updates and clips are posted there, as well as user feedback on the fan page being read on the air.  However, Facebook does not have the same instant connection feeling that Twitter has.  Facebook is a good tool, and I hope that Global can continue to develop it as a tool and exploit it’s strengths to enhance the quality of their broadcasts.  I think they can do the exact same thing with Twitter, however in a different way.

My main suggestion to Ms. Steele was to exploit the Twitter community as much as possible.  Use Twitter not just as a tool for delivering the news, but use it in the information gathering process, use it in the reporting process, and use it in the dissemination of the news.  Make the Twitter community an active participant in the news.  There is such a diverse group on Twitter that is ready, willing, and able to be used.  Some of the specific suggestions I had were:

  • Use twitter to ask for quick, immediate feedback on a story
  • Use Twitter to have users submit interview questions
  • Utilize the fact that there are people from the entire Capital Region on Twitter by monitoring what is going on in the city
  • Find News stories on Twitter
    • If a user posts something interesting on Twitter, have a reporter investigate.  Ask questions to see what is going on.  Maybe a simple 140 character post can turn into the top story of the day.
    • If a user on Twitter sees news happen, use that person who is there as it is happening in gathering information on a story.
  • Make Twitter an active part of the news broadcasts.  Reaction to a news story can be gauged even before the story is over on the broadcasts.  make the comments part of the story.

What I don't want to see is Twitter simply being used like RSS.  Twitter is a powerful tool that connects people together unlike Facebook likely ever will.  It should be used, and exploited to improve the quality of the news, and the quality of the media.  I believe that, if used properly, Twitter can be a tool to improve the quality of the product that the Media delivers.  I cannot wait to see what Lynda Steele and the rest of the Global TV Edmonton team can come up with.  As someone who has been using Twitter since November of 2007 it is very exciting to me to see how much it has grown.  I think the media can further it’s growth even more.