COVID-19: Who will cover costs for at-home workers’ extra internet use?

'We will not make it to the end of the month using our current data plan'

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Facing soaring internet costs while working at home with her children in tow, a frustrated GNWT employee is seeking more clarity from Northwestel amid uncertainty about whether or not overage charges will be waived — and when.

The woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, is among the scores of government employees now forced to work from home due to widening health safety measures implemented in the fight against COVID-19.

Schools have been closed until mid-April, and most government employees were sent home earlier this week.

That means workers and students, along with other self-isolating residents, are at home — quickly using up limited bandwidth caps.

“We will not make it to the end of the month using our current data plan,” the mother and at-home worker stated in an email sent to Northwestel on Wednesday.

With her family quickly eating up precious data, she’s been pushed to mull an internet plan upgrade to 400 GBs a month.

Staying the course with her current plan would mean risking the “gouging that will result from overage charges,” she wrote.

“Personal data usage is at an all-time high in NWT and we remain one of few places in Canada with no unlimited data plan.”

Anticipating a surge in internet use fuelled by COVID-19 situation, Northwestel asked the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to allow the company to waive overage charges until the end of the April for most customers in the NWT. For internet users in satellite-served communities, including Lutselk’e, Gameti and Wekweeti, Northwestel proposed doubling internet caps.

That request, however, has since been stalled. As the clock ticks for anxious customers in the territory, CRTC has asked Northwestel to re-submit its application without conditions outlined in the company’s first application.

Until that application is approved by the federal regulator, Northwestel is bound to keep rates where they are.

The GNWT worker said she spoke with a Northwestel employee on Wednesday.

The representative was initially unable to answer her questions — then the woman was told she wouldn’t be charged for overages, she stated in her email to Northwestel.

Confused and uncertain, the woman reached out to the telecom company in an effort to get answers — she wants to know if Northwestel would cover the difference between internet plans.

After a two-day delay, Northwestel responded to the woman late in the afternoon Friday.

According to a Northwestel customer service agent, the company is offering a promotion that will allow customers to upgrade to the next internet package at no cost.

If customers opt to downgrade within 30 days, they won’t face fees, as stated in the agent’s email Friday.

“If you chose to upgrade before the end of the month with us then with the promotion you would not be charged for any overages below the new usage cap. If the CTRC proposal is accepted after the end of the month you can downgrade at no cost,” the woman was told.

The territorial government employee wants Northwestel to be more upfront and transparent with its customers by offering regular updates on the status of the application.

The company, however, says it’s doing just that.

“Northwestel has a COVID-19 web page available through our home page or at nwtel.ca/covid,” stated spokesperson Andrew Anderson in an email to NNSL Media.

“We remain committed to updating customers as this situation progresses,” added Anderson.

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As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility to be there - day or night, rain or shine. When I’m not at court gathering stories, I’m in the office, making calls to lawyers, emailing RCMP and tracking down sources. After hours, I rely on the public to let me know what’s happening and where. Entering my second winter in Yellowknife since leaving my hometown of Peterborough, Ont., in October 2017, everyday on this beat continues to be challenging, rewarding and fulfilling. Got a story? Call me at (867) 766-8288 or shoot me an email at editorial@nnsl.com.

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