inside-telus-cp-3178653

Telus says government investment in rural broadband is needed. ((Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press))

Telus Corp. has drawn the ire of wireless customers by cancelling one of its unlimited data plans and dropping some subscribers for "abusing" its network.

The Vancouver-based company has discontinued the Connect 75 Unlimited plan it was selling in conjunction with a wireless aircard, which plugs into a laptop computer and connects to the internet via a cellphone network. The plan had cost $75 plus other charges and offered unlimited downloading, but Telus is now urging customers to move onto a $65 service that provides only one gigabyte of data per month, with each extra gigabyte costing $10.

Online message boards have been abuzz with customers reporting they are being cancelled or pressured by Telus to switch plans for downloading too much. One subscriber reported he had been contacted by Telus and urged to move to the $65 service because he was "abusing the terms of service" after downloading 12GB and for using the aircard for multimedia streaming.

"In the last 30 days I've used 12GB, not abusive for an 'unlimited' account, in my estimation," the user wrote. "I mentioned I didn't see YouTube as a streaming service ... The way the internet is now, it's almost impossible to avoid multimedia."

Jim Johannsson, spokesman for Telus, said the company was not forcing customers onto other plans and would continue to honour the Connect 75 Unlimited option for those already signed up. 

A small number of customers — or "0.1 per cent" — were being cancelled, he said, because their heavy usage was slowing the company's wireless network and affecting speeds for the vast majority of users.

"These are not typical or normal users, their activities are placing extreme demands on the network that are simply way beyond reasonable," he wrote in an e-mail to CBCNews.ca. "Unfortunately we have to take action — imagine an 'all you can eat buffet' where one customer comes in and loads all of the potatoes in a giant basket and takes it out to his car.  As the restaurant owner, you have to deal with the issue to ensure your other customers are able to enjoy their dinner. We have to take action to protect the other 99.9 per cent of our customers."

Telus happy to see heavy users go

Johannsson also said the company was not sorry to see heavy users go.

"As we contacted those customers, we found that some were well aware that they were violating the terms of service and were not surprised to get a call from us. Just like the wired internet, we know that some abusers employ a strategy of moving from carrier to carrier and abusing the services until they get caught," he said. "They also tend to be the most vocal on online blogs claiming that their rights have been violated."

Customers who cancel their service can do so without penalties and return their aircards for a full refund, Johannson added.

Complaints on message boards also focused on the issue of Telus selling an "unlimited" service that wasn't really unlimited. In the United States last year, Verizon agreed to repay $1 million US to customers who had been wrongly terminated for downloading too much under a plan the company marketed as "unlimited."

The October settlement was the result of a nine-month investigation by the New York attorney general.

"This settlement sends a message to companies large and small answering the growing consumer demand for wireless services. When consumers are promised an unlimited service, they do not expect the promise to be broken by hidden limitations," said attorney general Andrew Cuomo in October. "Consumers must be treated fairly and honestly. Delivering a product is simply not enough – the promises must be delivered as well."

Limited "unlimited" services

Canadian authorities have yet to investigate limited "unlimited" services sold by Telus and other telecommunications service providers. A spokesman for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission was not able to comment. An official from the Competition Bureau could not comment because of privacy rules, but said it was likely a matter for the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services.

One customer posted on a message board that the CCTS — the year-old consumer agency — has accepted his submission and promised to investigate the issue.

Aircards that plug into laptops are often the only high-speed internet access option available in rural areas. Telus's head of regulatory affairs, Janet Yale, last month co-authored an editorial in the National Post urging the government to spend some of the $4.2 billion windfall it earned from its auction of wireless airwaves on rolling out rural broadband.

"A third of communities across our country still lack high-speed access to the internet and many quite simply don’t offer compelling economic prospects for investment from the private sector," the editorial said. "Consequently, people in these towns and villages are being left behind."