Let’s talk about faulty Internet meters
By Ellen Roseman | Fri Feb 11 2011
The Bell-sponsored Let’s Talk Day on Feb. 9 was about mental health awareness.
But many people were talking about my story that Bell overbilled 2,700 customers because of a faulty Internet usage tracker.
This was embarrassing, given Bell’s insistence on usage-based billing for its own clients and those of Internet providers using its network.
I heard from a few more Bell clients who claimed to be overbilled, based on wonky numbers tracking their Internet use.
Neil Houlton said his household very rarely downloads movies or music. Yet each month, he was calling Bell to question why he was being charged for exceeding his limit, and each time Bell reduced his bill.
“Last month, the (alleged) usage was at the same high level. But the Bell agent I spoke to gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse: an increase to 65 gigabytes in our limit (from 25 GB), plus two months’ free Internet service,” he said.
Liz Thomson said she spent eight months trying to convince Bell that she was not downloading 25 GB a day. Her husband said she talked more to Bell than she did to him.
“After I had jumped through every possible hoop, refused to pay the cancellation fee and wrote to CEO George Cope,” she said, “Bell admitted that it could be their problem. Amazing.”
Keith Miller said Bell accused him of tethering, which allowed his computer to use his smart phone’s data plan. He didn’t do it or download movies.
“Bell said I used 10 times the data I was allowed and wanted to charge me over $900. I managed to get the price down, but I was insulted that no one could tell me what I did wrong or how to avoid it happening again,” he said.
Cogeco Cable Solutions also had problems with its Internet usage tracking, said John Griffith.
“I was reported to have uploaded over 20 GB of data in a single day. That’s a theoretical impossibility, because our Internet upload speeds aren’t fast enough to upload more than 15 GB in a 24-hour period,” he said.
Lisa Short, a Bell customer who contacted me about Internet overbilling, found out later this week that she wasn’t affected by the tracking errors.
“They discovered someone had stolen my Internet credentials and was using them to download massive amounts of data (155 GB a month),” she said.
“I still didn’t get an explanation from Bell as to why it took me two weeks of constant badgering to get it resolved.”
Meanwhile, Bell spokesman Jason Laszlo says the faulty Internet usage tracker was removed from the website for two days and came back online Friday.
“We’ve already reversed the incorrect charges. We’re contacting all affected customers to ensure they understand what happened and know they won’t be billed incorrectly,” Laszlo added.
What can be done? You can track your Internet activity with free software, such as Net Meter and DU Meter, or with some network routers.
But why should you have to double-check?
Why not enlist Measurement Canada, a federal agency that ensures the accuracy of gas and electricity meters, to monitor the meters used by all Internet service providers?
Howard Maker, the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunication Services, likes the idea.
“I don’t know much about Measurement Canada, but standardization and transparency in the way usage is calculated would benefit consumers and allow the industry to maintain and regain consumer trust,” he told me.
“Perhaps a voluntary industry code that sets out the principles by which usage is measured and explained to customers would be in order.”
Internet providers’ usage numbers must be reliable. As Olympic athlete Clara Hughes says in the Bell commercials, “Let’s talk.”
Ellen Roseman writes about personal finance and consumer issues. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.