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Rural internet users frustrated by slow connections as providers struggle with data overages

Rural internet users frustrated by slow connections as providers struggle with data overages
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Rural internet service provider Xplornet Communications Inc. says it has no plans to modify its network traffic management policies amid subscriber complaints that so-called data throttling has slowed connections to a crawl during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We do have traffic management policies, which we share publicly on our website,” said Xplornet spokesperson James Maunder.

“Our objective is for there to be no changes to a customer’s bill or an increase in fees as a result of exceeding their data cap. We have no plans to make changes to the language in this policy.”

A number of subscribers have taken to social media to criticize Xplornet’s traffic management policy that aims to assure consistent fixed wireless internet access for all customers while slowing speeds in some cases when data limits are exceeded “so that a small handful of (disproportionately heavy data) users do not cause the service to be poor or slow for everybody else.”

“They are waiving coverage fees but still slowing down speed if people go over their usage,” an Xplornet user wrote to the Star. The Woodstock, N.B., based company is the only available ISP for many rural Ontario residents, many of whom are getting service too slow to allow emails, the user added. “Those who work from home can’t work — my kids can’t access the Ontario online learning.”

“To ensure this equity of usage is maintained among Xplornet subscribers, subscribers may experience some temporary throughput limitation,” the policy adds. “Given the design of our network, we cannot guarantee a specific speed to subscribers as we offer service on a best-effort basis.”

Xplornet has temporarily waived overage fees on residential high-speed internet plans as have a host of telecom companies including Bell, Rogers, Telus and Videotron, but the overage charges still apply to rural customers who rely on hub devices to access the internet.

Bell says customers with Turbo Hubs, Turbo Sticks and MiFi devices will receive an extra 10 gigabytes of monthly usage and a $10 credit on their existing plan for current and future billing cycles starting March 19. Any data charges acquired before March 19 will still apply.

Lis McWalter, a Carling, Ont., resident and chair of the West Parry Sound SMART Community Network, an organization working to expand high-speed internet across the region, said speeds are so slow that the quality of voice calls is impeded. “And even at the best of times we don’t get the speed that’s promised.”

She said residents of Parry Sound, about 240 km north of Toronto, lack high-speed internet providers and rely on cellular connections — even as people are being ordered by authorities to stay home amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bell in a statement added that “during this unprecedented situation, the demands on wireless networks have been significantly heightened. Providing unlimited usage to all Turbo Hub, Turbo Stick and MiFi customers would put wireless network performance at risk during a critical time for Canadians.”

And although Rogers says the majority of its home and business customers already have unlimited data, it says “we are not able to offer unlimited data on our Rocket Hubs at this time as this may create undue pressure on our network in rural and remote areas, impacting our first responders and essential services.”

Telus customers and small business in remote areas affected by the crisis are being offered flexible payment options and the company says it has recently doubled the data on high-speed internet with Smart Hub residential plans, offering up to 1 TB of usage, which is triple the amount an average household uses.
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