Jen Morgan is frustrated.
As a businesswoman and mother of a young son, the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted her, as they have the entire country. Closure of schools means her son is now isolated at their rural home and as one of the partners of Collective Noun, a design agency which helps businesses and organizations with custom-built websites, branding, design, and marketing, she is working from home as much as possible.
Both of these scenarios mean the internet in their home is very much in demand, from uploading and downloading information to operate her business, to trying to help her son with online learning. Not to mention using the internet for social connection and distractions.
But Morgan’s Utterson home is located in one of the many areas in Muskoka that can only receive internet via a mobile hub. “If I lived two kilometres in either direction, I would be able to get better service,” she said.
After suffering for a few years with “awful” service, Morgan contacted Bell to be her service provider. A mobile hub which utilizes a cell tower was the only solution to provide her home with internet.
But there is no unlimited data option available and Morgan said that while the speed of the internet is okay and usable, she is limited to 100 gigabytes a month at a cost of $160.
“Normally, I can stay under 100,” she said.
If the family of three goes over the 100 GB, they are charged $5 per gigabyte. An overcharge bill of $300 heralded the cancellation of their Netflix account.
Over the last two weeks, Morgan said she contacted a lot of internet companies looking for more affordable options to no avail.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, Morgan heard that Bell Canada was waiving internet overage charges for all of its residential customers.
However, she quickly discovered her household does not apply because she is considered mobile.
Concerned over what this would mean for her, Morgan reached out to Bell in early March.
On March 14, she received a message that currently Bell was only able to waive Bell residential home internet and wireless internet and they had no updates with regards to the turbo hub or mobile internet lines.
On March 17 the message was the same.
Morgan said she then called the support line and was told by the support person that she needed to ‘just trust me’, although she had no information about usage fees at that time. “She said, if I was that worried then just don’t use your internet,” Morgan said.
On March 19, Morgan said Bell released a statement that they would add 10 GB of data at no charge to mobile users and provide a $10 credit, which would cover an additional 2 GB at the current overage rate of $5 per GB.
Between working from home and trying to access online tools and games for her son, even that additional data is not enough. Morgan said she likes working with Bell and understands providing unlimited data to everyone could overwhelm the towers and networks, but she can’t understand why they can’t provide more then the additional 10 GB.
“We are aware that many of our Turbo Hub, Turbo Stick and MiFi customers would like us to provide them with unlimited data,” reads read a Bell statement. “We would love to do that as well and we are sorry that we cannot. During this unprecedented situation, the demands on wireless networks have been significantly heightened. We need to ensure that everyone—including consumers, businesses and most importantly public safety authorities working on the current situation—continue to have fast and reliable access to our service. 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.”
Bell network planner Tory White said it is the hope and desire of Bell that one day everyone in Muskoka will have access to high speed internet, but that may not be the reality as this is a business.
“We are always planning and expanding the network,” she said. However, it is expensive and government subsidies are limited. Coupled with the fact that Muskoka is a large geographical area with a smaller population and some challenging landscapes, high sped for everyone may not ever be a reality.
“It looks like my son is going to be home a long time,” said Morgan, adding that it is great the Ontario government is pushing an online learning portal. “But what about all the people that don’t have access to the internet.”
In her frustration, Morgan started a petition through change.org. It asks Bell to waive overage fees for mobile home internet customers during the COVID-19 crisis like it is doing for its residential internet customers.
She said the petition has quickly gained momentum with more than 2,100 signatures to date.
Morgan sent the petition to Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Scott Aitchison who signed and shared it. An email from Aitchison’s office encouraged Morgan to contact Bell directly. “Scott is working on this issue (and posted the petition on his social media pages),” said Kirsten Baker, constituency manager for Aitchison, in an email to Doppler. “We are trying to have some influence and plan to send the final petition as well as a list of all the folks who haven’t been satisfied to our government relations person with Bell. Saying that we have heard from a number of constituents that case by case the carriers have often provided discounts, etc to Hub users. So the list of those not satisfied who’ve actually reached out to Bell for assistance is pretty low at this time.”
With the announcement made this week that schools will remain closed until at least early May and no further updates on changes to its policy from Bell, Morgan is still in the unenviable position of deciding to use internet for work, education or distraction.
Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller sympathizes with Morgan and says the provincial government is working towards solutions to improve internet and broadband service in the area and have pledged $315 million to invest in the area. However, he recognizes that doesn’t help with the immediate need during the COVID-19 crisis.
However, he added, the announcement on March 31 regarding education has introduced new methods of learning that are not necessarily reliant on the internet, including the possibility of bus drivers delivering homework.
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