by Paul Fruitman
If it seems like it takes longer to download those movie and mp3 files these days, it might be because it does.
Users of Rogers Communications Inc.'s Hi-Speed Internet can now download at a maximum speed of 1.5 Mbps, down
from 3 Mbps a month ago. Rogers made the switch in early June without issuing a news release or making any formal announcement.
According to Bob Carrick, president of Ottawa-based communications consulting firm Carrick Solutions Ltd. and a past vice-president at the Residential Broadband Users' Association, Hi-Speed customers were not given any notice of the change.
"It's been done without any e-mail to customers," he said. "People are just finding their speeds have been cut in half."
Rogers spokesperson Taanta Gupta said the company reserves the right to make amendments to its products and added that while Rogers may have promoted the 3 Mbps speed in the Internet-through-cable service's first years, it hasn't been promising those speeds recently.
Still, Gupta said the changes were made to improve, rather than limit, the average customers' broadband experience. She said a small percentage of heavy-use customers were slowing down the service of the remaining users. In other words, people were hogging the bandwidth.
"Our belief is that the impact will be a better network experience for customers," she said.
Gupta defended the lack of notification of the switch by saying that few customers have noticed a difference in their service. She said the company has received only 10-15 complaints about the change.
"Customers haven't seen the difference and there's no point in making an announcement," she said.
But Carrick said Internet message boards have been full of complaints from Rogers' customers. While he admitted many customers would have never experienced the 3 Mbps download speed because of network congestion, he said those familiar with speedy downloads of large files were aware of a slowdown.
"Some never hit 3 Mbps, but the ones that did noticed it right away," he said.
He noted that some customers are happy about the change because it relieves congestion, but said cutting the maximum download speed in half could also increase Rogers' bottom line.
"By reducing the speed 50 per cent, they've doubled the number of customers they can have," Carrick said. "It's like doubling your network capacity without spending any money."
But Gupta said network capacity did not factor into the decision.
"We didn't see (capacity) as being a problem for many years to come," she said. "There's plenty of capacity. The capacity is not the issue."
Reduced speeds at Rogers are yet another unwelcome change for heavy broadband users who have seen both Rogers and Bell Canada's Sympatico service put up limits to high-speed surfing in recent months.
In May, Sympatico announced it was moving from a one-size fits all high-speed approach to tiered services. High Speed Standard, previously the only available option, features up to 1 Mbps download speed, costs $44.95 (the previous price was $39.95) and limits users to 5 Gigabytes upstream and 5 GB downstream per month.
The Ultra service costs $69.95 per month, offers up to 3 Mbps download support and allows 10 GB upstream and 10 downstream per month. Sympatico also introduced a lower-cost "lite" service that features speeds twice that of dial-up and caps uploads and downloads at 1 GB per month. Along with cutting maximum download speeds, Rogers has also raised its standard price to $44.95 and introduced its own lite service.
The bit caps especially angered broadband users, some of whom signed a petition to protest their existence. As well, Carrick last month set up a Web site that allows disgruntled users and broadband neophytes to browse through alternative (and incumbent) providers that service their area. On Wednesday, http://www.CanadianISP.com 's 19th day in existence, the site had 11,000 page views that day alone, according to Carrick.
But Gupta and Sympatico spokesperson Andrew Cole insisted those upset over bit caps and download slowdowns represent only a small minority of users.
"For the vast majority of users, bandwidth charges are non-issue," Cole said. "The average user per month uses 1.5 GB of bandwidth, which leaves (Standard service users) a large window to expand their enjoyment."
He said only five per cent to eight per cent of customers use more than 5 GB per month.
"It's a vocal minority who are being introduced to a new concept, but one that is going to be increasingly commonplace," Cole said.
"I think what you will see over the coming years will a continued evolution of tiers," Gupta added.
She said Rogers has plans to institute its own download caps, but a decision on when the phase-in will take place won't come until at least the end of the year. And like the change to download speeds, the bit caps will infringe on the Internet usage of only small percentage of customers, she said.
"Whatever bit caps we impose, 90 per cent of our customers won't be affected," Gupta said.