Way back on March 8th we went to a Customer Consultation  evening hosted by Shaw, our ISP. The reason for this desire to meet face to face  with customers was the backlash  Shaw experienced from customers like us in response to the User Based Billing issue . The corporation hosted over 30 such meetings across its service area during the first consultation, and judging from the meeting we attended tonight, Shaw listened .
As with the first consultation evening, this one was led by Chris Kucharski, VP Operations, and one of the first points he made was that Shaw heard the message, loud and clear. He stated that at times it was hard to hear people who (like us) had been long term customers, and who, because of the way Shaw initially handled the UBB issue, had lost trust and faith in the company. Throughout each of the original consultation sessions, there was a commonality of thinking that Shaw needed to become transparent in its communication with its customers, who wanted more options when it came to the speed and data usage of their internet access – and the company freely admitted that it learned some very hard lessons throughout that process.
Over the past three months, the teams at Shaw went over all of the feedback they had received both in person and via the internet, and they came to the decision that Shaw’s future involved unleashing their internet customers, not reigning them in. This was followed by a collective mind shift on the company’s focus as it began to really explore what it could accomplish in the way of service provision and pricing to support the ever-growing usage of the internet in our daily lives. None of these considerations would have been possible without the exchanges that went on between the corporation and its customers, and this was a dialogue that Shaw wanted to keep open as it moves into the future.
There are approximately 366 000 Shaw customers still on analogue cable, and over the next 16 months, those customers will be converted to full digital cable. As those customers are moved off of analogue, there will be an increasing capacity of bandwidth available to improve internet services and options. These improvements will be a rolling capacity improvement as each of those analogue customers will have to be visited and their services converted. Those who need to be upgraded to digital will receive their digital boxes at no charge, and while this will cost the company a lot of money, and we know that those costs will be passed along to the consumer in the course of doing business, but to be honest I really don’t have a problem with that, simply because when all is said and done, everyone will benefit.
Some of those benefits have already been realized by those who subscribe to the Extreme internet package, with the bandwidth speed and data transfer allowance already receiving an upgrade that sees the transfer allowance more than double. The new, what I will call lower-tier, packages are shown in the image below – I will get into the higher-tiered packages later in this article.
These transfer allowance improvements are evidence that Shaw was indeed listening to its customers – and are available with no price increase over the current plans. Those of us on the higher-tiered broadband packages will have to wait until June for new options, but I will come to that in a bit.
The topic of the Transfer Usage Tool used by Shaw to show its customers how much data transfer they’ve used, but as was shown in the first round of consultations, this tool does not reflect real-time usage and is in fact two days behind in its reporting. It was also shown to be inaccurate and unreliable. Shaw’s programming engineers will be revisiting the reporting tool and making several improvements in it over the coming months.
There was also the question of Shaw’s flexibility as customer usage of the internet will inevitably change over time as the internet and data transfers become more and more important to the average Canadian as well as to business. Mr. Kucharski stated that as with these new plans, Shaw would review the plans and options when usage changes became apparent. One of the most important issues that started the whole uprising among internet users was very conspicuous in its absence with these new plans. There are no per gigabyte charges. At all.
Should a customer consistently go over his or her transfer cap month after month (not that that has ever happened in our house), they will be contacted by Shaw to discuss plan options as the plan they are on obviously isn’t working for them. The corporation is still working on the best avenue to pursue in regards to those who are consistently over, but they promise to not be combative or punitive. Those customers on plans with transfer limits who go over will be automatically bumped up to the next plan level for the remainder of the month, but again, the company is looking at the best way to communicate this action to the consumer.
During the first round of consultations there had been discussion of educating people to do their downloading during off-peak hours, something that would not always be convenient for those with home offices or who telecommute. After taking the beating that it did during the consultation period, Shaw wanted to take the most open and customer-friendly approach to any changes they made with their internet offerings, and throttling or rewarding off-peak usage simply did not have a place in the new packages. While there will inevitably be a need for some education in regards to transfer usage, the company again felt it better to unleash its customers and give them the internet experience they expected than to leave them feeling sour and limited.
The conversion from analogue to digital will definitely open up the broadband sandbox, but this will need to be done one neighbourhood at a time. Shaw will map out a plan of attack, so to speak, looking at each hub individually and most likely beginning with the hubs that are currently experiencing high levels of congestion. Like Aldergrove – so we’ll be first for broadband upgrades, right? 😉
As each hub is converted, the network gear will also be upgraded so that it can handle the higher internet speeds that are coming. Scott and the Cavechild are already drooling over the new broadband packages – they are like two little kids waiting for Santa to arrive with the newest Transformer. Shaw estimates that it will take five weeks per neighbourhood upgrade, but throughout the process Shaw is committed to open communication and finding the right process so that there are no surprises. They want the digital conversion to be as simplified as possible, especially for those customers, like my parents, who have little to no technical knowledge.
There are still a few areas to be visited in regards to the offering of broadband packages, as at this time there was no standalone plan option for those who do not have digital TV packages for reasons such as sight impairment, and this was an area which experienced discussion last evening.
So, to get to the new second and third tier broadband packages that will be offered in the near future, here are the Phase 1 plans:
The Legacy TV packages are for those Shaw customers who do not use the recently implemented Personalizer Plans, while the far right column is for those of us who do. Needless to say, we will be starting out at the Broadband 100 level, because with the amount of files and such we have that need to be sent out or uploaded to our server, the 5Mbps speed is something we will make good use of. The 100Mbps downstream will come in kind of handy with all of the gaming that goes on in this house as well.
Once the rolling upgrades begin, customers who so desire can begin upgrading their own connections to the Phase 2 broadband packages:
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you which package Scott and the Cavechild are salivating over. While some may look at those plans and say they are far too expensive, and I know there is lots of information and a myriad of studies saying that Canadians pay too much for internet usage, and maybe we do when compared to larger, more populated markets on a per capita basis. That, however, is not my worry at the moment – I am more concerned about the high fees we pay for simple cellular use than what we pay for internet service. That, however, is another topic.
Consumers using these plans will be doing so because they need the speed and the higher transfer limits, and like us, they are willing to pay for those higher levels of service. While I readily admit that our budget will take some tweaking and we will probably be looking at our television packages more closely, a big part of our lives does revolve around internet access, so paying more for a higher level of service is something that should be expected. One thing we would like to see change with these upper level plans, though, is the removal of having to pay for an IP address.
We require three IP addresses, and that third IP costs us about $10.00 per month, which I feel is rather high and punitive. These new plans are comparable to what is offered business users  insofar as price and speed is concerned, and I feel that if, as top tier users we are paying similar to what a business is paying, then some of those benefits should be offered right across the board, and that includes the extra dynamic IP addresses that are available to business plan users. I know that current addresses are in very short supply as the range available is nearing capacity, but with the onset of IPv6, the market should be wide open, especially once Shaw completes its conversion and is able to handle the new range.
The conversion over to full digital will not only benefit those of us who are heavy internet users. Through discussion in regards to the current offerings of packages in the TV Personalizer option, it was revealed that more channels will become available to viewers, including the long awaited iDiscovery. Consumers may see some alterations to the packages as channels get moved around, or there may be some entirely new options. As I have mentioned previously, I would like to see a package made up of the “knowledge” channels, as they offer more of the shows we want to watch – History, Discovery, National Geographic, Book, Bio, and to an extent A&E and TLC, although TLC seems to be offering more and more shows we have no interest in, simply because we watch very little reality TV, especially those shows that centre on toddler pageants and outrageously expensive birthday parties. While we are proponents of Canadian content, we would definitely like to see better options come available and not have to pay an extra $3.00 per month because Discovery Science isn’t included in any of the current channel line-ups. I can say this, though – whichever network picks up The Event will get our attention.
Shaw acknowledges that there is still more work to do, but the corporation wants to continue the lines of dialogue that have been opened. There will be future Customer Consultations taking place across the region, which we will take part in, because we believe that if we don’t talk to our providers and let them know what is on our minds, then the ability to grow and improve is lost. I believe Shaw now gets that, and they are not looking to make the same mistake again, so it is with cautious optimism that we look forward to seeing which direction Shaw moves in and how it evolves as the future reveals opportunities that right now seem to reside in the realm of science fiction.