Bell Sympatico increases their speeds, but are bandwidth caps on the way?

Bell recently increased their speeds for their “Sympatico High Speed” service (of which I am a subscriber) from 3 Mbps to 5 Mbps, which is great. I wasn’t really aware of what the speeds were before (though I did notice peak speeds of close to 400 Kbps, which translates into 3+ Mbps), but this is a welcome increase, and one that’s somewhat expected considering they recently raised the price of this service from $44.95 to $46.95 per month.

$50 a month for a 5 Mbps connection isn’t that bad considering it’s still for unlimited bandwidth usage, although those days may be coming to an end. Out here in Edmonton, Telus offers DSL offers a 3 Mbps package for $40.95/month (with a 60 GB cap), or a 1.5 Mbps package for $30.95/month (with a 30 GB cap).

Of more concern is Bell’s future plans. As I mentioned before, their “High Speed Edition” and “Ultra High Speed Edition” (which is still at 5 Mbps despite the former’s increase) are still set for unlimited bandwidth usage. However, this is very likely to change in the future, as indicated in a recent interview with Kevin Crull, President of Residential Services for Bell Canada. In it, he says:

It used to be that the real heavy users were 2 percent of our subscriber base, but now we would consider heavy users to be 30-35 percent of our subscriber base.

This quote is supposed to justify the rolling out of their new “Optimax” service, which I understand is their shiny-new fibre optic solution, probably similar to Verizon’s FiOS in the States. However, what isn’t so blatantly advertised is that Optimax will feature caps, set at 50 GB for the 10 Mbps service or 75 GB for the 16 Mbps, with each additional GB costing $1.25 (for the 10 Mbps) or $1.00 (for the 16 Mbps), quite a hefty fee.

Not the only dog in town

Not that Bell’s the only one bringing back the bandwidth caps. Roger’s new premium service will also feature a cap of 100 GB/month. It seems like the future trend is to provide much faster speeds (thanks to improved infrastructure and lower costs) while at the same time, restricting usage by putting in bandwidth caps.

While it’s true that most people won’t exceed these caps (as most people don’t do much more than surf the web or read e-mail), the people who do sign up for premium high-speed services are very likely to, since what else would one be using such a fast connection for, other than bandwidth-intensive applications? I also understand that high-bandwidth users can be trouble for ISPs, who have systems limits themselves. But is putting in caps and charging for overtime the way to accomplish this? My understanding is that these users are already paying more since they’ve signed up with a higher-speed package – shouldn’t this be enough?

What lies ahead

All of this talk of caps on bandwidth usage should be of importance to anyone who uses the Internet for bandwidth intensive applications. In many ways, this relates directly to the Net Neutrality debate that seemed to be all the rage this summer; though it only directly applied to the US, since the Internet is a global network, it indirectly will affect all of us. If you’re a Bell Sympatico customer, a good place to keep up to date on the changes is the Broadband Reports Bell Sympatico Forum.

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