Smartphone Tethering: Bell’s Obsfucated Pricing

June 7th, 2011 by Potato

I’ve been an internet junkie for a long time. But you knew that already. Whenever I go on vacation I usually sign up for a dial-up plan for a month so that I can get at least some kind of access on the go — particularly when I’m romping about Canada and not staying in hotels with free wifi, and especially for extended stays at the cottage. But my new laptop doesn’t even have a modem. My blackberry however, does have the ability to access the internet, and pass that connection along to my laptop. This seems like a really convenient option for ensuring continual connectivity to the internet while traveling, at least if there’s cell coverage (which is pretty damned spotty at the cottage).

But I’m afraid. I’ve heard too many horror stories of outrageous data charges. I don’t understand how transferring data via my smartphone is different if it goes to my BB browser vs. via a USB cable to Firefox on my laptop… but somehow it is. It’s a much more expensive transmission, according to Bell (and Rogers, for those with them [edit: though with 1GB+ plans, it’s free]). For the convenience of not having to shop for a USB dial-up modem and then getting dial-up service at the cottage, I’m willing to pay a little bit to tether my phone. But I’m having the damnedest time figuring out how much it will be. There are different numbers all over the place.

My plan includes 500 MB/mo of data. That would suffice for my needs. But is tethered data just counted towards that cap? The rates page on Bell’s website says, when you select a plan with at least 500 MB/mo of data, that “tethering is included.” Oh, included. So I would say, by that wording, yes, tethering is included at no extra charge and will simply count towards the monthly data quota.

Wait. Wait. There’s a superscript. The damned page doesn’t have any footnotes! Ah, ok, I can open the fine print, aaaaaaand footnote 3: “Additional data is $1/MB.” Additional beyond my 500 MB? Because on my plan, that’s “only” 5 cents/MB if the excess data usage comes from using my phone (again, isn’t data data?). Why the difference? If I use up 500 MB via tethering first (ostensibly free), then 500 MB on my phone, does that order matter, or will they charge me $1/MB because that’s more than $0.05/MB?

Worse yet, I’ve heard horror stories on the various fora that many Bell smartphone plans don’t include tethering, and they start charging at (5 cents/MB, or $1/MB, or 5 cents/kB which is an infuriating $50/MB) ridiculous rates right away.

Honestly, it made my head spin. I was thinking of getting a USB dial-up modem just to avoid the hassle of dealing with it all. Finally I called them up and asked, and the rep on the phone told me that on my plan tethering is not included in my 500 MB/mo of data, but is only 3 cents/MB. That was not any one of the interpretations of the rate plans on the website. I was wondering about using tethering in other cases, and how much it would be to add to the plan, and she said that the only plans she could switch me to that would have it would be 5 cents/MB for tethering, implying that the information about tethering being included on the website-listed plans is wrong.

I give up. I very nearly have a PhD and I simply cannot figure out the billing systems for Bell mobility.

3 Responses to “Smartphone Tethering: Bell’s Obsfucated Pricing”

  1. jonathan Says:

    how do they know your tethering, won’t it be just an ovarage on data? no matter what the use it?

  2. Michael James Says:

    All this type of nonsense is what has kept me from using any kind of smart phone. I tell people that I just hate taking phone calls, but that is only part of it. I hate reading an agreement I can’t understand knowing that there are several hidden catches designed to make me pay more than I’m expecting to pay. If some company steps up with more honest customer dealings, I would probably adopt the latest communication technology. For now, I’ll remain a Luddite.

  3. Potato Says:

    That’s what I kept wondering: not only should they treat data as data as data, but how could they tell the difference in the first place? After I got it set up I had my answer: the phone doesn’t directly share its existing 3G connection, a dial-up networking profile is created, which should provide Bell a means of telling the usage apart.

    Also, I went through my files to dig up my paper contract in case the details were buried in its 4 pages of fine print. All it says about tethering is that it’s not included in my data plan, and that there would be additional charges, but didn’t say what they would be. I have that sinking feeling that what the rep said now will mean little when the bill comes in July.