Shaw doubles internet speed as service providers race to keep top-end users

News that Shaw Communications is doubling the internet speed for its top-tier customers in Western Canada at no additional cost signals an increasingly competitive market for data-hungry users, experts say.

Internet access advocate questions why all customers won't get bump in service speed

Shaw Communications is doubling the internet speed of some of its customers across Western Canada. (CBC)

News that Shaw Communications is doubling the internet speed for its top-tier customers in Western Canada at no additional cost signals an increasingly competitive market for data-hungry users, experts say. 

On Thursday, Shaw announced that its Internet 150 and Internet 300 residential customers will each automatically get double the download speeds on its fibre network as of Dec. 3.

The offer includes unlimited data. It doesn't extend to lower-tier customers who pay less for slower service.

Richard Smith, SFU professor and director of the Centre for Digital Media, says the move is a sign that service providers like Shaw and Telus are working to retain their most lucrative, and finicky, customers — the ones downloading content from multiple devices, including increasingly popular 4K TVs.

They may also need to access faster service from a home office, or for gaming.

Both Telus and Shaw are moving their networks over to ultra-fast fibre internet​ as they aim to offer customers old and new the fastest service and the most data.

Smith says high-end customers are taking note of the competition.

"Those premium customers are also the ones who might dump you and switch to something else," Smith said. "You don't want to annoy those people, so raising the ceiling means that they're less likely to bump into it."

'We're paying too much'

Shaw's faster service won't cost any more, but it wasn't cheap to begin with. The Internet 150 plan costs $110/month, and the Internet 300 plan costs $120/month. 

By comparison, Telus is offering its Internet 150 service at $95/month and its Internet 300 service at $110/month, which includes 1 TB of monthly data. Customers can pay an additional $15/month for unlimited data or, if they choose a two-year contract, get unlimited data for that two-year period. 

Laura Tribe, executive director of internet-access advocacy group OpenMedia, says it's no secret that Canadians pay some of the highest rates in the world for data. 

"Across the board we're getting not enough services for what we are paying, or we're paying too much for what we're getting," Tribe said.

Higher internet speeds are key for people who download data from multiple devices, according to Simon Fraser University's Richard Smith. (Shutterstock)

Tribe welcomes the news that Shaw is doubling speeds for top-tier users. But she questions why the same can't be extended to lower-tier users as well — some who may have the same needs as those who can afford faster service.

Access to faster internet isn't just about 4K streaming on services like Netflix, Tribe points out. The internet is an essential service in an increasingly connected world where some people have to work from home or just want access to information. 

She says the fact that Shaw is offering faster service for some of its customers suggests there is more bandwidth — the amount of data that can be transmitted across a network — available for all, even though many internet service providers argue that's not the case. 

"Any way that we can encourage companies to let customers use the full amount of bandwidth available is really great," Tribe said. 

Need vs. want

But SFU's Smith says the deal isn't about creating fairness among Shaw customers. It's about attracting more people to pricier tiers in order to make more profit. 

"This is a competitive business environment and fairness is not really the motivator," Smith said. 

As for whether those top-tier plans are truly worth the cost, both Tribe and Smith say internet users should consider what their needs are and how much data they're currently using. For some, faster speeds may just be a personal preference. 

"This is not about need but it's about want," Smith said. "These are things that you are putting in your entertainment budget and people can decide whether that's what they need to do."

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.