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A number of internet and wireless providers have promised more flexibility for customers struggling to pay their bills during the COVID-19 crisis.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Some Canadian internet providers are raising their rates, even as they offer other breaks for customers dealing with the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Customers of BCE Inc.'s Bell Canada saw their internet prices rise by about $6 last month, while independent internet service provider TekSavvy Solutions Inc. has announced it will hike its monthly rate by $5.

The rates are increasing even as both companies and many of their competitors have lifted data caps for some home internet users. A number of internet and wireless providers have also promised more flexibility for customers struggling to pay their bills during the COVID-19 crisis.

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Melanie Dix Jordan, a 30-year-old international student from Brazil who lives in Toronto, was surprised to see an increase on her most recent Bell bill.

“It’s a small amount,” said Ms. Jordan, whose part-time job at a catering company has been put on pause because of the pandemic, but “every cent counts.”

Bell spokesperson Marc Choma said the increase, which took effect March 1, was announced late last year.

“With the COVID-19 situation, we’ve put any new pricing adjustments on hold until further notice,” Mr. Choma said.

Laura Tribe, executive director of OpenMedia, an organization advocating for widespread inexpensive internet access, said the pandemic has crystalized how essential communications services have become.

“It is really hard to see that consumers have to pay more at a time where they are earning so much less," Ms. Tribe said.

TekSavvy Solutions Inc. announced last week that it will be laying off 130 of its staff and increasing customer rates by $5 a month because of rising operating costs.

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As an internet reseller, TekSavvy has had to purchase 20 per cent more capacity from larger providers to handle the surge in internet traffic as Canadians are working and entertaining themselves from home amid a push to slow the virus’s spread.

TekSavvy had been poised to benefit from a recent ruling by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that would have slashed the rates that major phone and cable companies can charge independent ISPs. However, the implementation of the new rates has been put on hold, pending the outcome of a Federal Court of Appeal case.

“This isn’t about a company protecting its profit margin in the face of a health crisis," said Mike Stanford, TekSavvy’s vice-president of marketing. “We just couldn’t continue to operate with the quantum of loss that we were experiencing every month and have taken steps to reduce that loss.”

Rogers Communications Inc., meanwhile, has postponed a planned increase to its TV and home internet services that was slated to take effect after April 28, while Telus Corp. said it is cancelling all of its planned price rate hikes indefinitely.

That includes an increase to the cost of per-minute long-distance home phone plans that was implemented on March 1, Telus spokesperson Erin Dermer said.

“Any customers that may have been charged at the new rate before the rate freeze went into effect will see a credit applied for the difference on their upcoming bill,” Ms. Dermer said.

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