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Spikes in internet usage anger Iqaluit customers — UPDATED

Dozens of Iqalungmiut are reporting mindboggling usage spikes with internet service provider Northwestel.

Some customers are reporting the spikes occurred when their modems weren't connected or they've been on holidays.

NNSL file photo
Northwestel announced the launch of its new broadband satellite network Sept. 17 and since the beginning of October Iqaluit customers have reported inexplicable usage spikes. From left: Ron Harrigan, David Joanasie, Lorne Kusugak, Savikataaq, Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and Corbin Winsor.

The company launched its new higher-speed Tamarmik Nunalitt network infrastructure in early October.

"At the beginning of the month our account read we were going through a minimum of 10 GB a day, over 20 GB on the 2nd," said Jasmine Redfern, who signed onto the new high-speed deal for 100 GB offered by Northwestel.

Then Iqaluit was hit by a wind storm Oct. 4.

"On the day of the storm our phone line, the wire, actually fell from the house. So our home isn't connected to Northwestel at all. Since then we've been told we've used an additional 30 GB of data," said Redfern.

"My partner (Shawn Watchorn) is the one who made the last two service calls, saying, 'I don't know how you can say we've used an additional 30 GB when our physical building is not even connected to the pole, and our modem inside the house is not even connected to the wall.' The customer service agent got very upset with him, saying, 'I'm telling you what I'm seeing at my end and we don't have any issues here.'"

Since he wasn't getting anywhere with the agent, Watchorn thought to call again for another agent or a manager. The same agent answered his second call. Watchorn asked to speak with a manager. The agent hung up on him.

That Oct. 9 interaction was the last one the couple had with Northwestel.

Redfern turned to Facebook, wondering if anyone else had experienced similar issues. In a thread with 100 comments the morning of Oct. 10, more and more Iqaluit residents told their stories.

"We have experienced the same thing this past weekend. Northwestel said we went through 20 GB in 48 hours. My husband talked to the representative who told him that there was nothing wrong with Northwestel's system," said one.

"We've had ours unplugged, as well, and Northwestel says we’ve gone through 95 per cent of our monthly limit in the last few days," said another.

Kyle Sheppard told Nunavut News his household got the new service upgrade Oct. 3.

"We are at 49 GB of usage already and we were gone from Oct. 4 until today," said Sheppard Oct. 9.

Some commenters noted such spikes and overages are the reason they severed service with Northwestel.

"Can't believe that is still going on!! The reason I cancelled and switched to Xplornet four years ago. Suffered through two years of billing issues," noted one commenter among many expressing the same sentiments.

Northwestel should investigate

A few Qiniq users noted milder spikes in their usage.

Qiniq communications manager David Veniot said his company has not received reports or calls on the matter. Qiniq users can access the Cruise Control feature, which allows customers to control the rate at which they download data, he said.

"We have no idea if this problem is a result of Northwestel's Tamarmik Nunalitt network. Qiniq does not yet have access to this new federally-funded satellite capacity. It should be noted that this high throughput Ka-band capacity is made possible by public funds from the Government of Canada's Connect to Innovate program, and as such is mandated to be shared equitably with other providers for the benefit of all consumers in Nunavut. In the interest of fair competition, Northwestel was not to give themselves preferred access before sharing with others, but we are still waiting," stated Veniot by e-mail.

Veniot also said in the event they receive a call related to over-usage, Qiniq would immediately investigate.

"An excellent example of this occurred in January 2014, when incorrect usage tracking was being reported due to an unforeseen bug in our management system. We diligently isolated every customer account that was affected, contacted each customer directly and reimbursed them with usage credits and discounted fees to compensate for the error," he said.

Redfern said she wants Northwestel to acknowledge that there have been issues with their system.

"I'd just like some transparency and some accountability. It's not very fair that they immediately say, 'Everything's fine on our end,'" she said, adding the first response should be for the company to investigate the situation.

'The last rep we spoke with denied having spoken to anyone having similar issues. But, as you can see, other people are clearly having the same issues. I'd just like them to be a little more honest and upfront about any potential bugs in the system."

Northwestel's director of communications Andrew Anderson issued a statement the afternoon of Oct. 10 following the publication of this story, saying the company "is aware of information that some Iqaluit customers may be experiencing unexplained increases in data usage."

"We are looking into each one," stated Anderson.

"Our priority is to ensure that every customer receives the service they subscribe to. We would encourage any customer who is experiencing issues with their service to contact our customer care center at 1-888-423-2333. Specific information on dates and times of any potential unusual activity will help us identify potential issues."