Some Rogers and Bell Rural Internet Customers Racking Bills Up to $650 During COVID-19

Bell mobile internet devices

Internet customers from Rogers and Bell living in rural areas are facing higher than normal bills, due to overages and lack of unlimited internet.

Rural internet customers use mobile network-based hubs to get online as no fibre or DSL connections are available, depending on the area. Mobile internet hubs don’t qualify for waived home internet data overages, which Rogers, Telus and Bell have provided for traditional customers in during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent CBC News exposé on challenges facing rural Canadians when it comes to internet takes a look at what some are experiencing during COVID-19.

In one example, a woman in Pickering, Ontario, saw her monthly Rogers internet bill surge during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to increased usage at home. Picking is 40 km northeast of Toronto.

Rosette Okala saw her cellular hub-based internet bill go from $160 per month to $540, after overages on her plan surged during the coronavirus pandemic, due to working from home, along with her 12-year old son doing more schoolwork online.

Her plan is at $145 per month for 100 GB, with overages billed at $5 per gigabyte.

She told CBC News, “This is just a slap in our face,” adding, “We [rural customers] pay huge bills just to be able to do something basic that most people take for granted.”

Okala says Rogers first offered a $30 bill credit and a payment plan for her internet bill, which she declined. She called back days later and was able to get $100 credit and 50% off her monthly fees for 24 months.

Rogers says Okala was also told of a “new plan” made available to all Rogers customers that would lower future bills, but she did not accept it.

Only when CBC Go Public reached out to Rogers did the company take off another $230 from her internet bill, while gifting her the internet hub permanently.

Bell Rural Internet Customer Sees $650 Bill

In a similar case, a Bell customer in North Dumfries, Ontario, saw his March bill go from $280 up to $650.

With only cellular-based internet through a hub, John Burbridge said he incorrectly read a Bell email detailing waived overage fees during COVID-19. The University of Waterloo economics professor thought it also applied to his account, which was not the case.

Bell’s COVID-19 relief for rural internet customers came in the form of an extra 10GB of data and a $10 bill credit.

“If rural Canadians are expected to work and do school work from home, decent and reasonably priced access to the internet is a basic right. Bell should not be allowed to gouge rural customers,” said Burbridge to CBC News.

The North Dumfries resident pays $180 per month for a 100 GB plan, with data overages billed at $5 per gigabyte.

When CBC contacted Bell on his behalf, the telco offered $350 credit to Burbridge for March and 60% off his data overages for the next month. Bell spokesperson Nathan Gibson said the company has invested “significantly more” than rivals to better communication services in rural areas.

Why can’t internet hub customers get unlimited data plans too? Rob Ghiz, executive director of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which represents the telco industry, said networks cannot handle the extra capacity, while also claiming added usage would jeopardize first responder calls.

But not everybody agrees. The executive director of non-profit and consumer advocate OpenMedia, Laura Tribe, called internet data caps “a way to increase profits and suppress the usage of the networks.”

Rogers, Telus and Bell have waived home internet data overages for customers since March, but the goodwill gesture comes to an end on June 30, 2020. For rural users with cellular hub-based internet, the waiving of overages does not apply to them during COVID-19.