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With Netflix for the kids and baseball on the iPad for me, our household uses a lot of data. Having an Internet plan that can accommodate our data use is a necessity. (Michael Snider)
With Netflix for the kids and baseball on the iPad for me, our household uses a lot of data. Having an Internet plan that can accommodate our data use is a necessity. (Michael Snider)

The Switch, Part 2

Dear Rogers Hi-Speed, I'm leaving you for someone else Add to ...

Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” has nothing to do with cancelling cable and Internet service, but I’ve been replaying the song in my head for the past month.

It’s not in any company’s interest to make breaking up with it easy, but the hoops and hurdles you have to jump through to say goodbye to Rogers can be a pain.

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I’ve never been a Rogers hater. I’ve been a customer since moving to Toronto in 1999, and I’ve often found its services superior to Bell’s, with the exception of the TV-channel guide. Its Internet packages have traditionally offered faster speeds and higher data caps, but part of the plan to dump cable-TV for an over-the-air antenna always involved changing Internet service providers (ISPs).

As a consumer, I want more for less. Who doesn’t? Add in our household’s increasing use of over-the-top video from services such as Netflix and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console and it’s a no-brainer. Rogers –and Bell, for that matter – offers no incentives for families like mine. Its Internet packages either have ridiculously low data caps or, on the high end, prices that don’t compete with smaller ISPs.

About a year ago I upgraded my Internet package from Rogers’ Extreme to Extreme Plus. At the time, Extreme was a 10-megabit-per-second service with a 95-gigabyte data cap for around $60 a month, while Extreme Plus offered 25 Mbps and a 125-GB cap for $70. Back then, my wife and I watched a few HD movies delivered through our Xbox and we incurred overage fees for exceeding our data cap. Microsoft’s library of content is not bad, though it suffers from the usual dearth of content compared with what’s available in the United States. The problem with the service is that many of the HD movies are 10 GB, and watching one flick ate up 10 per cent of our monthly data total.

Today it’s clear that over-the-top TV is rapidly making the incumbents’ Internet packages look positively anemic and horribly overpriced.

Globe Technology has written a lot about usage-based-billing, so I won’t dwell on it, but the bottom line is that after switching to TekSavvy Solutions Inc., I have unlimited Internet through cable, and I pay much less for it, at $55 a month. While I’ve had to drop my speed to 15 Mbps from 25 Mbps, it’s still a better choice, considering it’s the same speed Rogers Extreme currently offers, it is not limited by an 80-GB cap, and it costs less.

The switch, however, was not without its wrinkles.

When I called Rogers to cancel cable-TV and Internet, I was aware of its policy requiring 30-days notice before it would terminate service. While I understand, to a point, restrictions and penalties attached to something such as ending a cellphone contract, I have no clue why Rogers has the 30-day delay. The difference is that one is a mutually agreed upon term contract and the other appears to be a stall tactic that enables sales reps a chance to try to lure you back with promotions and deals.

After several calls to Rogers customer service to try to get an earlier cancellation date and an exchange of correspondence with the company’s Office of the President, I have still not received any explanation as to why the 30-day delay exists (beyond, it seems, another month’s worth of charges). One supervisor claimed it was technically impossible to get an earlier date, which I believe to be false.

I learned there’s a trick to cancelling, if your situation allows it.

Switching incumbent providers – which, in my view, is completely redundant – is easier than moving to a Rogers partner such as TekSavvy. One of the customer reps I spoke to early in the process admitted that if I returned my rented Internet modem and HD cable-TV box to a Rogers store, my account would be closed and that would be that. So customers fleeing to Bell can actually quit Rogers immediately because they can co-ordinate the installation of their new service with the termination of the old. As I say, though, that’s like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

For me, it wasn’t an option.

Part of the reason is that TekSavvy buys its bandwidth from Rogers, and the transfer process – which I understand is relatively simple and conducted remotely – is done by Rogers. No trucks sent to your house, no cut lines, no holes in your walls. All TekSavvy does is couriers you a new modem ($75-$90), if you need one, though you can buy your own , which is an option that’s not available to Rogers customers. Note: As various commenters have pointed out and as Rogers has just confirmed, you can buy your own modem for Rogers Hi-Speed, though the modem must be approved, for which Rogers says there is a process.

The other part of the reason is that if I had returned the equipment I would have been without Internet access for more than a week. TekSavvy requires at least seven days advance notice for new hookups. That makes sense. But here’s the rub: TekSavvy – at the insistence of Rogers – will not schedule the transfer until the account is closed.

So I was stuck – cancel everything and go a week without Internet access, or stew for a month because company A can’t connect until company B says it’s okay.

I stewed.

During the stewing process, I communicated with someone from Rogers’ Office of the President. Although I identified myself as Globe Technology’s editor, I didn’t tell the person I might use his correspondence in an article, so I won’t identify or quote him. But he essentially said Rogers has made exceptions in the past based on a customer’s situation and he wrote that if TekSavvy were able to secure an earlier installation date, then Rogers could expedite the transfer.

TekSavvy said that while it sounded like a swell idea, it has been directed by Rogers not to put in transfer orders without a cancellation date already in the books. A TekSavvy rep said there have been many issues in the past when it was handled otherwise. The he-said, she-said continued, and then communication from Rogers stopped and I figured I’d have to wait.

To be fair, it wasn’t really a hardship. My Extreme Plus has been fine. It’s fast and reliable and it has a relatively high data cap compared with Canadian standards, even though on two occasions I’ve tripped the data line and incurred overage fees. Whatever. It’s done now.

So what am I going to do with my unlimited Internet cap?

I mentioned in Part 1 that my household reconnected Netflix after getting an over-the-air antenna. I can now bump up the Netflix video settings and stream programs at the highest quality rather than dialling it down so it uses less bandwidth. We can also watch Xbox programming. Microsoft has agreements that Netflix doesn’t, so together the choices for movies and programs are a little better.

And there are more over-the-top services out there, accessible through devices such as Apple TV and Boxee, and I suspect there will be more in the future that do not hinge on being a customer of Company X. It never ceases to amaze me how disruptive the Internet can be to traditional businesses and practices. Companies that are unwilling to use disruptive technology in their favour put themselves at a disadvantage. As business models make delivering content online profitable, I have little doubt that content creators will continue to bypass traditional delivery methods in favour of direct-to-consumer methods.

And why not? As a consumer, I’m tired of having to buy a whole package of things just so I can get the small percentage of selections I want.

It’s why I’ve been a long-time fan of Major League Baseball’s streaming service. The $120 (U.S.) annual subscription lets me view or listen to any game, plus countless other interactive features and options. While Blue Jays video broadcasts are blacked out, I can still listen to Jerry Howarth, which is how I often follow the Jays anyway, or watch the game after it’s been archived for any great highlights. But as a baseball fan, rather than just a Jays fan, I’m okay with that. I’ll watch anybody play, it doesn’t matter who, and the service is accessible on multiple devices. I listen to afternoon games on my BlackBerry walking home from work, set up my iPad beside my PC at home while I work or surf and can even watch games on the living room big screen through a PlayStation 3.

I find myself turning to the Net for more than just baseball and movies. I watched game two of the NHL Playoffs on my computer and viewed far more of the 2010 Winter Games online than I did on TV. I also watch CBC News and The Daily Show online, I stream music to my phone and – okay I admit it – I checked out the Royal Wedding on the web. While there are far more over-the-top services and types of content available in the United States than in Canada because of geo and IP blocks, the tide is turning and we are slowly catching up.

Of course, the Internet has a way of trumping things such as geo and IP blocks. Services such as Unblock-us.com and My Private Network, for example, make it relatively easy to access blocked content. I’ve test both, briefly, and they work, though such services usually charge a monthly fee of around $5.

And there’s BitTorrent, the file-sharing protocol used to download video, music and software. While it’s been the main source of Internet-delivered content for Canadians for some time, legitimate services are beginning to erode people’s reliance on ripped shows and movies.

For now, I’m satisfied. Things change, and you never know what the CRTC is going to pull out of its hat. But there’s a lesson in all of this for media businesses: Consumers are in the driver’s seat. We want fair value for the money we spend and when it comes to content and the Internet, we will, for the most part, pay for it. But on our terms.

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