Kyle Jennex says it started in November. “I had some unaccounted usage on my account and after talking with Northwestel it immediately stopped,” says the Whitehorse resident.

Jennex changed his passwords and began to monitor his usage. Then in December, it started again: more data was being moved on his account than he could account for.

“This time it was a hundred times worse. I found extreme upload usage on my account that should not have been there. When I first called Northwestel, they said there was nothing they could do about it, I need to slow down on my downloads.”

Frustrated, Jennex went online to try and find out if other Northwestel customers were experiencing the same thing.

He found six people right away, including a friend of his who rarely uses her internet, and was told she went over her usage by 50 gigabytes. Another friend was charged $1,700 in overage fees, which he’s still trying to pay off.

Arnold Salas has the worst case so far. He once got an internet bill of over $3,000.

"I used to live in B.C. and Winnipeg... you can open your computer for 24 hours a day for the same flat rate of $50 or $30 even," Salas says.

Jennex says they’ve all heard the same excuses from Northwestel.

“You must have a neighbor that’s hacked into your system or maybe your kids are watching Netflix. They always come up with some kind of excuse to explain the usage.”

Jennex says the activity on his account happens at night when people are sleeping. And, he says, it’s mostly uploads, not downloads, that are causing the overuse.

“I could not have uploaded that much data in that amount of time,” he says. “There was definitely an electronic issue on their end, either through the modem itself or through their usage counter, which I believe to be faulty.”

Jennex is even suspect about the company’s motives: “They’re either doing this on purpose to get people to upgrade to these bigger accounts and of course charging a bit more a month because it costs a bit more for these new accounts, or they’re just gambling and hoping these people will pay for their overages.”

Now Jennex is collecting names and considering a class action suit against Northwestel.

Customer beware: Northwestel

Curtis Shaw is Northwestel’s vice-president of marketing. He says it’s up to customers to change their passwords, monitor their usage and install a virus checker on their computers.

He advises customers to turn off their PCs at night.

“That shuts down any hidden usage that you may not be realizing you’re generating.”

Shaw also says users can sign on to an email service that notifies customers when they approach their limit, “really to protect people from receiving a surprise bill.”

He says the company monitors usage and in some cases calls customers whose accounts are generating an unusual amount of activity.

As for the ‘faulty meters’ that Jennex suspects, Shaw says his company has done a lot of work on their meters, and had industry validate them. “I believe they have a high degree of accuracy.”

Pricing changes could be coming

Last month, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, gave Northwestel until March 31 to submit a revised pricing schedule for approval.

Shaw admits that Northwestel’s prices are higher than in southern Canada, and says they’ll submit a new rate package to the CRTC in early February.

“There will likely be more changes,” he says.

Shaw also points out that unhappy customers can submit their complaints to the Office of the President, which he says receives five to seven complaints a month. They can also go to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, an independent agency that tries to resolve customer’s complaints.

Jennex says he’ll continue fighting.

“There’s no need to rip us off because we live so far North.”