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Suspending data caps, offering bill relief: How 22 Canadian internet service providers are responding to the pandemic

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Nearly all Canadian internet service providers are suspending data caps on their home internet plans as politicians and public health officials urge people to stay home to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Talking Point

Across Canada, millions of people are staying home and relying on their internet connections to work, order vital supplies and communicate with loved ones. In response, internet service providers are rewriting the rules in real time. Eleven are waiving data caps for home internet. Some are eliminating roaming fees, while others are increasing network capacity and introducing bill payment relief.

On Friday, The Logic reported that Videotron, Rogers, TekSavvy and Telus were suspending caps. Now seven other firms, including Bell, SaskTel and EastLink, are waiving their caps, as well. Cogeco and SSi Micro said they would not automatically waive data caps for customers. 

Across the country, 17 internet service providers are rolling out new policies designed to help Canadians, ranging from Ice Wireless suspending data-speed limits so Canada’s North won’t be slowed down regardless of use to Telus waiving all roaming charges through the end of April for those stranded outside of North America. 

Here’s how 22 of Canada’s largest internet service providers are responding to the pandemic, with the Big Four providers listed first and the others listed in alphabetical order by company name.

Bell

Montreal-based

Serves all provinces and territories

The firm is waiving additional usage fees on residential internet for all its customers, including those of its subsidiaries—Bell Aliant, Bell MTS and Virgin Home Internet—until April 30. It’s also pausing all door-to-door marketing activities and providing free previews on a number of news channels including CBC and CTV, and limiting the number of customers allowed in each store to three at a time. On Tuesday, the firm said it would close all mall kiosks, most mall stores and some street locations due to COVID-19. Bell did not say whether it would pay employees lost wages because of the closures.

“We know the services we provide are critical. With many businesses asking employees to work from home and the special requirements of public safety authorities, we are ready to add even more capacity should the need arise,” reads a statement Bell issued on COVID-19. 

Rogers

Toronto-based

Serves all provinces and territories

The firm’s customers will have no overage fees until May 31, the longest of the Big Three. It’s also waiving long-distance fees for calls to anywhere in Canada until the end of April, as well as many roaming fees, and is introducing flexible payment options for customers affected by COVID-19. 

“We will also be ensuring that services will not be suspended or disconnected for any customers experiencing financial difficulties over the next 90 days,” reads a statement from Rogers.

Rogers’s technicians will have safety kits including protective gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, which they are supposed to use before and after visiting customers’ homes. It’s automatically adding preview access to a number of television channels, including kid-friendly, news and lifestyle offerings. The firm is closing about 90 per cent of its retail stores until March 31, although 93 stores will remain open with reduced hours and a three-customer limit at a time.Employees affected by the closures will continue to be paid.

Telus

Vancouver-based

Serves all provinces and territories

Telus is waiving data caps until the end of April. It was the first major telecom to waive roaming charges for most customers outside Canada. The company is also closing all mall kiosks and stores nationwide, but keeping about 10 per cent of stores, located outside of malls, open to provide essential services. Telus is also offering flexible payment options for both consumer and small business customers. Retail employees affected by the closures will get top up payments so they still receive their average monthly wages and performance pay.

“We don’t want anyone to worry about not being able to pay their bill on time if they have been financially affected by the crisis,” firm spokesperson Brandi Rees told The Logic. 

Telus is also training additional workers to cope with increased demand for its virtual health-care apps Akira Health, available nationwide, and Babylon by Telus Health, available in Ontario, B.C., and Alberta.

Shaw

Calgary-based

Serves primarily Western Canada

On Sunday, the firm became the first telecom to close its stores. In all, 159 Shaw retail locations as well as that of its subsidiary, Freedom Mobile, which has a nationwide customer base of about 1.7 million, are temporarily closed for the next two weeks. All employees affected by the announcement will be paid for the time they would have been scheduled to work. The company has no data caps, and is offering free access to all of its Wi-Fi hotspots to people, regardless of whether they’re customers or not. 

“Recently, we’ve made significant upgrades to improve our network upstream and downstream capacity. We can handle any additional increase in usage without compromising the quality of your service,” reads a statement from Shaw. 

Access Communications

Regina-based

Serves over 235 communities and rural areas in Saskatchewan 

The firm recently completed upgrades to its network, which includes high-speed fibre. “Access does not have data limits in place for internet services and we are fully prepared to service the increasing demands of our customers if they begin working remotely in response to the COVID-19 virus,” said Fran Moran, its communications manager. 

Cablevision

Val-d’Or, Que.-based

Serves primarily the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region 

The firm has posted a statement on its website about its COVID-19 response: “We are following all COVID-19 public safety guidelines including enhanced sanitary precautions. In addition, any Cablevision employee or representative—including technicians as well as store and neighborhood marketing agents—returning from abroad or feeling unwell are instructed to stay at home for the recommended period.” Cablevision did not reply to The Logic’s requests for comment. 

CIK Telecom

Markham, Ont.-based

Serves Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba

The firm, which had over 180,000 customers as of 2017, said all of its internet plans are unlimited, but it’s experiencing a significant traffic increase. 

“We have noticed significant traffic increased since two days ago due to people working from home, so we have checked all our underlying providers and we have added more capacity urgent with Videotron and Cogeco yesterday, and we just submitted adding big capacity with Bell today,” Jack Don, a spokesperson with CIK Telecom, told The Logic last week. 

“I believe all ISPs are in [an] emergency now[,] same as us. We are monitoring our network closely as it is [a] big challenge … dealing with such [a] situation,” said Don. 

Cogeco

Montreal-based

Serves Ontario and Quebec

Cogeco is one of only two internet service providers The Logic contacted that said it won’t waive data caps for its customers. But the firm will waive late fees incurred due to COVID-19 for residential or small-business customers. 

“Instead of offering a temporary lift of data caps for our Internet customers only, when more than 75% of them already have unlimited plans, our agents are taking a more personalized approach on a longer term to give customers special offers based on their specific needs during the COVID-19,” said spokesperson Anastasia Unterner. 

Customers can contact the firm directly to review their options. Unterner also said the firm has built up its fibre-broadband infrastructure and “conducted extensive business continuity preparations to ensure that its customers will continue to have access to services as the situation evolves.”

Distributel

Toronto-based

Serves residential customers in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia

The firm is eliminating its data caps for a longer period than any other. “Distributel also waived all overage charges associated with capped plans on Friday, and did so for a minimum of the next 90 days. We’ll evaluate at the time whether to extend that or not,” said CEO Matt Stein. 

Eastlink

Halifax-based

Serves primarily Atlantic Canada

The firm is providing access to several news channels, including CBC and CTV, and is temporarily suspending data limits on all internet plans, according to a statement. Asked how long the suspension would last, spokesperson Jill Laing said, “In terms of timing, it’s really too soon to know as this situation continues to evolve.”

The company is also increasing the cleaning and disinfecting of its stores and establishing safety guidelines for its technicians. 

Execulink Telecom

Woodstock, Ont.-based

Serves Ontario

The company is waiving overage fees on its internet plans until April 30, closing its stores to the public, and is providing free previews for about three dozen television channels. 

Execulink is asking its employees to work from home and has paused all in-home installations. It’s also asking its customers to reduce their internet usage where possible. 

“We encourage responsible usage during this time. In the coming weeks, more people will be working from home and practicing social distancing, leading to higher volumes and overall Internet usage. It’s important to be considerate of your neighbours and communities, especially in times like these. If possible, try to reduce the time you spend online,” CEO Ian Stevens said in a statement

FibreStream

Toronto-based

Serves over 74,000 condos in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver

The firm, which provides fibre-optic internet, only offers unlimited plans. It’s seen a 10 to 15 per cent increase in internet use over the past week and is instituting screening measures for new installations. 

“Effective March 16, FibreStream is implementing screening for all installations. This safety measure means that anyone who is booked for an in-unit installation will be required to answer questions, such as whether they’ve travelled abroad or have flu symptoms. If they do not pass the screening, they will be rescheduled for a future date without penalty. This is for the health of the technician, customer and general public,” said Ilana Belfer, a FibreStream public relations consultant. 

Iristel

Markham-based

Serves residential internet customers in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia

The firm owns Ice Wireless, which operates in the territories and Quebec. It’s suspending data-speed restrictions for customers of both carriers. Most of its customers have unlimited data, but their download speeds get throttled after 10 GB of usage a month; that slowdown is being lifted. 

“With the number of COVID-19 reported cases doubling over the past week, we support government requests to increase self-isolation and social distancing in order to ‘flatten the growth curve’ of the virus,” Samer Bishay, president and CEO, said in a statement

MNSi Telecom

Windsor, Ont.-based

Serves primarily Southern Ontario

The firm is no longer accepting cash payments in its offices due to COVID-19, but said it’s ready to handle any increase on its network as more people work from home. It does not have data caps. 

“MNSi has only offered unlimited service with no caps for quite a number of years,” the firm said in an email to The Logic. “The fact that Rogers, Videotron and Bell are only now suspending caps in response to COVID-19 seems a bit hollow.”

Novus Entertainment

Vancouver-based

Serves Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Coquitlam, Surrey and New Westminster

The company offers unlimited data plans, co-president Donna Robertson told The Logic. 

Novus’s customer support staff are being given the option to work from home, but its installation programs are going ahead. 

“Novus is maintaining its installation and technical support programs for customers in order to allow people to be and stay connected,” said Robertson. “We intend to continue to do so as long as we feel it is safe for our technicians to interact with customers.”

SaskTel

Regina-based

Serves primarily Saskatchewan

The firm, which has about 1.4 million customer connections and a workforce of about 3,600, is a Crown corporation owned by Saskatchewan. It’s waiving data overage charges until March 31. On Monday, SaskTel said its stores were remaining open. 

“We are closely monitoring the situation but at this time, our stores remain open and our employees are at work,” firm spokesperson Michelle Englot told The Logic

SaskTel is offering free previews of several news and entertainment channels to customers until March 31. 

Seaside Communications

Sydney, N.S.-based

Serves 20 communities in Cape Breton and 10 counties in northeastern Nova Scotia

The firm has about 10,000 cable subscribers in Cape Breton, and about 10,000 fixed wireless customers in rural portions of Cape Breton and northern Nova Scotia. It “has no bandwidth caps, and will not be implementing any during this crisis,” said spokesperson Parker Donham.

“Our cable system recently underwent a major upgrade, so we are confident of its ability to handle whatever customers require. Our fixed wireless system is radio-based. The radio links can be upgraded remotely, simply by purchasing more capacity from the manufacturer. We do this all the time as needed,” said Donham.

SSi Micro

Yellowknife-based

Serves primarily Nunavut, Northwest Territories and the Yukon

The firm offers satellite-based internet to Canada’s North. “We have been very busy with a number of internal meetings on this matter,” said spokesperson David Veniot. 

SSi Micro sent a notice to customers Tuesday asking them to practice “social solidarity” and try not to use data unnecessarily. 

“Some internet service providers in southern Canada have recently announced short-term measures to allow unlimited data usage for those working at home. However, these same companies have access to a fibre backbone where capacity is less of an issue,” reads the statement. 

“In Nunavut’s 25 satellite-served communities, such initiatives are simply not advisable. While SSi continues all efforts to augment backbone capacity into Nunavut, solutions are not yet in place. As a result, providing significantly increased or unlimited data usage across a backbone with limited capacity will only serve to increase traffic congestion, slow down current connectivity and frustrate all users.”

Tbaytel

Thunder Bay, Ont.-based

Serves Thunder Bay and Northern Ontario

The firm, which offers 4G coverage over a 300,000-square-kilometre area ranging from west of Sault Ste. Marie to the Ontario-Manitoba border, does not have overage charges for its fixed internet customers. It’s waiving long-distance fees for out-of-country subscribers until May 15, automatically adding over 30 channels to its subscribers’ accounts, introducing flexible payment options and closing its store. 

“Tbaytel will continue to monitor this evolving situation to determine how we can best meet the needs of our customers and the communities we serve,” spokesperson Jamie Smith told The Logic. 

TekSavvy

Chatham-Kent, Ont.-based

Serves about 300,000 customers nationwide

The firm will not charge customers for overage fees. 

“As Canadians will work from home and families stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic, TekSavvy is suspending billing for overages for current TekSavvy customers on capped packages, effective immediately until April 5, 2020,” CEO Marc Gaudrault told The Logic.  

Videotron

Quebec-based

Serves primarily Quebec

The firm was the first major telecom to suspend data caps for its customers. It made the move early Friday afternoon, and is suspending caps for both residential and business customers until April 30. It’s also providing free access to some on-demand content, as well as specialty news, kid-friendly and lifestyle channels. Videotron is temporarily closing some stores in Ontario and Quebec, while keeping others open to provide essential services like purchasing chargers, SIM cards and activating telephones for “front-line personnel.” 

Videotron has also cancelled door-to-door marketing and is requiring employees who return from trips to self-isolate for 14 days. 

Xplornet

Woodstock, N.B.-based

Serves primarily rural customers across Canada

The firm is waiving overage charges for data used between March 17 and April 30.

UPDATE: After publication of this story, Cogeco clarified the percentage of its customers with unlimited data plans and Execulink changed its installation policy. The story has been updated.

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