POSTED AT 5:40 PM EDT    Tuesday, June 4
Sympatico poll indicates bit cap backlash

Globe and Mail Update

High-speed Internet customers are becoming increasingly angry about limits placed on their broadband connections.

In a poll on Bell Sympatico's own Web site Tuesday, almost three-quarters of respondents expressed a strong dislike of the recently announced "bit caps" which limit subscribers to 5 gigabytes upload and 5GB download each month before extra charges kick in.

Rogers Cable, Sympatico's largest competitor in Central Canada, has also said it will institute bit caps sometime later this year, but has not yet announced what they will be or when they will be imposed. Other smaller service providers have also instituted caps, among them Montreal's Videotron, which imposes a 6GB monthly limit.

About 450,000 people subscribe to Rogers' cable-based Internet service and 800,000 to Bell's various digital subscriber line (DSL) services.

The question on Sympatico's Web site asked: "What do you think of the current trend toward bandwidth caps on cable and DSL accounts?" By Tuesday afternoon, 55 per cent of 789 voters said they were "shocked and dismayed" and 25 per cent said, "I don't like it, but I'm not surprised." Only 5 per cent said, "It doesn't affect me, so I don't care," while 14 per cent responded, "What's a bandwidth cap?"

The poll is not considered scientifically accurate.

Bob Carrick, an Ottawa computer consultant and specialist in DSL technology, said he is taking images of the poll every 10 minutes because he expects Sympatico to take the poll down when the company discovers the negativity of the reaction to its latest moves.

Mr. Carrick, who recently joined the Toronto-based Residential Broadband Users' Association as its vice-president of DSL operations and policy, had started his own on-line petition against bits caps in February.

The RBUA had started a couple of years ago as a group of Rogers' customers, but has since expanded its interests to include Sympatico's DSL subscribers as well.

By Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Carrick's petition had garnered 7,449 signatures objecting to the bit caps.

Mr. Carrick estimates that a small number of the names in his on-line petition are likely fictitious ("Let's say about 5 per cent of them are phony," he said Tuesday), but the rate at which it is attracting signatures is increasing steadily. It is currently gaining "about 1,000 per week," he said.

His petition starts, "Do you feel that it is fair for an ISP to charge users a premium for extra bandwidth usage beyond a certain amount?"

Sympatico begins monitoring each user's Internet traffic this week. A "bandwidth meter" tells users how many gigabytes they have downloaded in the current billing month.

Customers whose accounts approach 4GB a month will get an automatic e-mail warning them they are coming close to their monthly limits. After the monthly limits are exceeded, subscribers will be charged 79 cents per every 100 megabytes of data, or $7.90 per gigabyte.

"Internet users have been drawn to ... broadband services by wide-ranging pursuits in education, business and entertainment," a statement released by the RBUA Tuesday stated. "Rogers' and Sympatico's marketing campaigns have consistently highlighted the Internet's rich multimedia content for example, Internet radio, video Web casts and two-way multimedia communication with family and friends. The ability to take advantage of these services with any regularity will disappear with the caps.

"Another victim of bit-capping will be Canada's cutting-edge, new media sector," the statement continued. "Canada prides itself as a world leader in the broadband field for spawning a number of innovative ventures that benefit directly from the growth of unregulated high bandwidth applications. Unfortunately, all of this innovation is now in serious jeopardy."

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