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Jan 29 2011

Usage Based Billing internet approved - I can’t believe this shit.

Published by Mark under Frustration, Idiocy, Money, Technology, WTF

I have been following (with interest) the saga of Canada’s big internet providers attempting to push through UBB - Usage Based Internet Billing.

They have already reduced their own offerings to a selection of pittiful overpriced plans with small caps, but they were still forced to allow third party providers (who piggyback on their networks) to provide much more reasonable plans.

We are a digital household - every member of our family is connected to the internet in one fashion or another, we use Netflix, rent movies on our AppleTV, download Xbox games and content, send and receive video files, I backup huge amounts of data (such as my iPhoto library) offsite, and we also surf a lot. It’s not uncommon for us to exceed 100 gigs per month, occasionally more if I import a bunch of video into iPhoto which subsequently gets backed up offsite.

Currently, I currently pay about $40 per month for 200 Gigs of DSL on a dryloop connection through an independent DSL provider called Teksavvy.

However, the independents are the exception to the rule when it comes to the current realities of ISP’s in Canada. Not happy with allowing their customers to enjoy a reasonable amount of bandwidth for a set price, they have been on a mission for the last few years to castrate the internet by reducing bandwidth limits.

Their problem was that they were only doing it to themselves (and their own customers), while the independents still offered cheap and plentiful internet to their customers. If you were a savvy consumer, you soon ditched Bell, Rogers and Shaw and moved to an independent ISP who offered better service for less money.

Well, no more. The CRTC approved UBB (Usage Based Billing) this past week, and now we’re all screwed.

So, I currently pay ~$46 for 200 Gigs. Lets compare - for a similar amount of money, Bell Canada would provide me with 25 Gigs. For an extra $5 I can get a whole extra 40 gigs for a total of 65 gigs for MORE then I now pay for 200 Gigs. Rogers? $46.00 per month will get me 60 Gigs.

Both Bell and Rogers pride themselves on their blistering speeds (Rogers offers up to 50mbps on their top of the line plan, for example) - but what good is a huge pipe if you can use your entire bandwidth allowance in mere minutes if you actually utilize the service to it’s limits? Even Rogers 50 Megabit plan includes only 175 Gigs per month for a steep $99 per month price tag.

Today I received an email from the president of my ISP, Teksavvy.

As some of you know, the CRTC recently rendered a decision forcing all independent DSL and Cable Internet providers to substantially match incumbent (like Bell) usage rate caps. This will influence all of our internet service packages eventually, but DSL residential customers in Ontario and Quebec first, as of March 1. Along with you, we are not pleased with this, and our view is more fully expressed in our press release which you can find here: http://www.teksavvynews.com/

From March 1 on, users of the up to 5 Mbps packages in Ontario can expect a usage cap of 25GB (60GB in Quebec), substantially down from the 200GB or unlimited deals TekSavvy was able to offer before the CRTC’s decision to impose usage based billing. Users who were on unlimited package rates will be returned to $31.95 capped rates although larger blocks of bandwidth can be purchased.*

In order to facilitate this transition we have constructed a new easy-to-navigate portal at https://myworld.teksavvy.com where our customers can choose from the amended and new packages.
The details of our new rate plans and charges can be found there. You will be able to register using the account information found at the end of this email. More on the portal below. In addition, in order to accommodate these changes, we have amended our Terms of Service, primarily regarding implementation. The amended Terms form part of your Agreement with TekSavvy and can be viewed at https://secure.teksavvy.com/en/termspolicies.asp.

Please note if you do not choose a new service before March 1, 2011, your existing package will be transitioned into an amended package. Existing packages and the ones they will be replaced with in each case can be found at http://teksavvy.com/en/faq-ubb_on.asp for Ontario and http://teksavvy.com/en/faq-ubb_qc.asp for Quebec.

Content and data like Netflix, YouTube, IPTV, large file downloads or other streaming services can consume large amounts of bandwidth and place your cap limits in jeopardy very quickly. We encourage you to monitor your usage carefully, as the CRTC has imposed a very high overage rate, above your new monthly limit, of $1.90 per gigabyte ($2.35 per gigabyte in Quebec).

The CRTC did however provide an option for insurance usage blocks at $4.75 per 40GB block per month, which can be purchased if you want to reduce your cost for use above 25GB (60GB in Quebec).

Ontario and Quebec up to 5 Mbps users with a monthly limit of 25GB and 60GB respectively:

Insurance Blocks Offered:

* $4.75 - 40GB extra usage
* $9.50 - 80GB extra usage
* $14.25 - 120GB extra usage (maximum 3 blocks)
* $55.00 - 275GB extra usage (maximum 240GB extra usage in Quebec)

I feel bad for companies like Teksavvy (as well as many other small independent ISP’s) as this will KILL them. They survived on being not only the “Little guy”, but also by being able (and willing) to offer the consumer an excellent deal. Now they have been priced to fall lockstop with the big ISP’s and their competitive advantage is virtually gone.

Add to this the fact that the backbone providers are also refusing to allow them access to the higher speed offerings they themselves offer, the independents are being squeezed for all their worth. Squeezed right out of business, perhaps.

Oh wait, is that the plan, big guys?

The best option above will be for me to pay an extra $14.25 per month for an extra 120 Gigs, which will give me 145 gigs - less than what I received before, for $15 more.

Currently I pay $46 Per Month for 200 Gigs.
I’ll now pay about $63 Per month for 145 Gigs thanks to UBB.

This has incensed me. I don’t blame my ISP since they’ve made it clear since day one they are strongly against UBB, but I DO blame the CRTC, Bell Canada, Shaw, and Rogers - the big internet companies that were behind the push to put UBB in place.

And I’m not alone - Canadians everywhere are fuming.

Over 83,000 Canadians (and counting) have signed the Open Media Petition against UBB. If YOU haven’t, please do - the future of affordable internet in Canada depends on this!

I could go on for hours about this…but I’ll closed with this.

Dear CRTC - Canadians are pissed with this stupid decision you’ve made, and a groundswell of angry consumers is brewing. You’d best reconsider, before you’re TOLD to reconsider, because the shit is about to hit the fan.

4 responses so far

Aug 26 2010

Mini-vacation to Splash Canyon, Barrie. Meh.

Published by Mark under Camping, Travel, WTF

On a bit of a whim we took our trailer up to Barrie Ontario for a few nights at the “Splash Canyon” waterpark / camping resort. Normally I probably wouldn’t blog about a kitschy little vacation like this, but I must say that the whole experience was a bit disappointing for a few reasons and perhaps my post can act as a bit of a review for others.

I’ll preface it by saying that we did have fun. The waterpark was fun overall (with exceptions) and we met a great family camping on the site next and ended up having a lot of fun with them both at the waterpark but back at our campsites in the evening as well.

The big issues I had with the park?

1/ On the evening we arrived they shut down the entire waterpark early. When we took issue with it (as we eventually learned our newfound friend neighbors also did) they reason given was “There wasn’t enough people to bother keeping it open, we were loosing too much money”. WTF? Seriously? How about putting a way a few dollars on the summer weekends when you’re making it hand over fist so you can keep the park open no matter how many people are in it on a slow day.

2/ I don’t know if it’s because the season is drawing to a close or what, but overall the water park facilities showed a lack of maintenance.

3/ The wave pool water level was about 2 feet (!!) below where it should be and as such the skimmers were not able to function - this resulted in a lot of crud floating in the water, which in turn ended up causing an early closure of the wave pool again on our second day there due to “water clarity issues”. It’s not surprising there was water clarity issues when there was effectively no surface skimmer filtration.

4/ With some exceptions, many of the staff in some areas really couldn’t seem to give a crap that you were there. Social time with fellow employees or campground friends seemed to trump even basic levels of customer service.

5/ Whoever thought that making walkways surround by (and in some areas, partially built with) loose gravel in a waterpark (where you are in bare feet) should have their head checked. I lost track of the number of times I stepped on rocks EVERYWHERE in the water slide area. Other high traffic areas had nothing at and were sloppy mud which in turned was tracked everywhere else where there were actually paved walkways. Seriously, cement pavers aren’t that expensive that there’s a need to space them 12″ apart and fill the surrounding spaces with gravel while leaving other areas a complete mud puddle.

6/ The campground was rather sterile. Despite being surrounded by beautiful forrest, it’s clear that they clearcut and bulldozed the entire camping area and then planted new trees which are quite small. I often wonder why campground planners do this versus salvaging mature tree cover (and selectively cutting) in order to carve a campground out of the existing mature forest instead. As built, there’s not a lot of privacy and no shade whatsoever - each site is adjacent to at least two others, or three on the inside section. On a positive note, full hookups are standard and were problem free and campground rules were adequately enforced.

7/ Perhaps I’m nitpicking now, but seriously, put a muffler on your service vehicle. You could hear their staff vehicle rumbling through the campground area all day long and it got really annoying as it was obnoxiously loud, especially when they rolled past our campsite in the mornings before we (and I’m guessing, MANY others) were still in bed.

Will we go back? Probably not. It was fun for the 3 days we were there, but with the exception of the fact it had a campground attached there are other (better) waterpark options out there. It think if we hadn’t felt a bit screwed by having the entire park close early on us one day, and partially on another day we might have had a better opinion, but when you have paying customers on your property closing early because your profit margins are not up to your liking, or a pool is dirty and has to be closed due to no fault of the customer (as as the case of the wave pool) the situation becomes inexcusable and certainly won’t make people (including us) come back.

No responses yet

Aug 19 2010

Dear Google - Screw off!

Published by Mark under Frustration, WTF

A few weeks ago I signed up for Google Adwords. I figured I may eventually use it to advertise a few things that could return a few dollars in my pocket on a monthly basis, and I had been told that If I signed up and let my account remain dormant for a period of time Google was apt to provide some free credit for my Adwords account.

For the first few weeks, everything was fine - my account sat dormant, and Google did indeed send me some credit to apply towards it.

Then the phone calls began.

“Hi, this is (name removed) from Google calling regarding your Adwords account!”.

….and the emails.

I am contacting you regarding the AdWords account that was recently set
up. I wanted to introduce myself and my team.

The voice mails continued to pile up seemingly arriving from several different people, and I was sometimes receiving multiple calls per day. Based on how Google seemed to be adamantly wooing me, you might be fooled into believing that Google thought I am the head of some multimillion dollar multinational corporation, yet that couldn’t be further from truth.

Two days ago I sent an email (admittedly rather blunt) to the last person who had contacted me via email more or less telling them to leave me alone. I’ll setup my account when I’m ready, and with all due respect I don’t really need help, but thanks anyways.

I received no response indicating that my email had been received, much less acted upon, but for two days the emails and phone calls stopped.

However, the kicker arrived today in the form of not only one, but TWO nagging AdWords emails from two different Google Adwords reps, as well as yet ANOTHER phone call.

The email I sent today (to both reps, also quoting the third!) was even more short and I advised them that if the contact attempts continued I would be treating them as spam, which to be honest, after several attempts to stop the unsolicited contact attempts, it basically is.

I wonder how much success these reps will have contacting people with Gmail accounts when I start marking all of their own email addresses as spam generators in Gmail itself?

2 responses so far

Jun 16 2009

Fading audio in iMovie ‘09 - Possible, but frustrating.

Published by Mark under Mac, Technology, WTF

Since I switched to Macs one of the features I’ve always enjoyed was iMovie - over the years I’ve taken a great deal of video of family, vacations, events, and whatnot, and it’s nice to be able to take that raw video and occasionally make something semi-professional out of it.

I updated to iMovie 09 a few months ago and was pleasantly surprised to discover two things:

1/ The disaster that was iMovie 08 is behind us - iMovie 09 is vastly superior.
2/ My hard drive camcorder, a JVC Everio, is now supported and imports directly into iMovie seamlessly - no more tedious (and confusing, for many) manual imports and conversions are necessary.

However, today I was editing some video together of a motocross event that we were at last weekend and I found myself unable to do something seemingly simple - reduce the audio level of a soundtrack / music track at a set point. In iMovie 06 it was easy (lets not even talk about iMovie 08), but in iMovie 09 it seemed impossible. I thought it would be as simple as “Splitting” the audio track and then adjusting the audio volume of the resulting new track, but there seemed to be no way.

Sure enough, after quite a lot of Google-Fu, it seems like this is a common (and irritating) complaint with many iMovie 09 users. How Apple could remove such a seemingly important (and simple) feature that was part of iMovie 06 is beyond me, but it’s gone. You can adjust the levels of the primary video clips, but the underlying audio soundtrack is forced to a fixed volume for the entire duration of the track - you can adjust it overall, as well as the fades at the beginning and the end, but want to adjust it in the middle of a track to allow (for example) someone speaking? You’re out of luck.

A lot of further searching found some hack-ish methods that either didn’t work the way I wanted, or just didn’t work at all.

Eventually I discovered my own work around.

I opened up Quicktime and recorded 60 seconds of silence. I exported it as a .wav file, subsequently opened it with iTunes (which imported it, a step that’s necessary for it to show up in the iMovie audio list) and then dragged the clip into my project in iMovie. I lined it up with where I wanted the original soundtrack volume to decrease, and then opened the audio preference settings for the “Silence” clip and then told iMovie to “Reduce volume of other tracks” to 30%, as well as setting the volume level for the silence track to 0%. I suppose one could use any audio track and simply set the volume to 0%, but I had already created my “Silence.wav” audio file by the time I had the revelation.

The result did basically what I wanted to accomplish - the audio fades, albeit a bit fast, but the crossfade durations are not adjustable any longer, another sad omission versus iMovie 06.

Apple, please bring back mid-track audio editing in the next incarnation of iMovie, or at least let people split audio tracks so that volume levels can be adjusted at various points - the current method of doing it just plain stinks!

3 responses so far

Jan 18 2009

An open letter to Mother Nature.

Published by Mark under WTF, Weather

After shoveling our latest foot of snow, I’ve had enough.

That is all.

One response so far

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