Telus versus Shaw versus Rogers versus Bell: Who Should You Choose for Home Internet?
Choice is a good thing. But when choices are very similar, making a decision can be difficult. You might argue that if they're so similar, who cares? And in some cases, this may be applicable. But when choosing home internet, I'd wage you care. Similar or not, you want the best bang for the least buck. I don't blame you.
People are always looking at Telus vs. Shaw blog posts and forum posts that are old and outdated. We recently ran a basic Bell vs. Rogers article too, but it wasn't comprehensive enough. Here, we lay out all the options, crunch the numbers, and provide to you the 2011 Techvibes Guide to Choosing Your Home Internet Provider.
What Works Where?
Not all four home internet providers offer their service in all regions of Canada (and these aren't the only four either—they're just the four biggest). Here's a quick breakdown of which providers apply to you based on your location:
Bell reaches Quebec and Ontario. Telus reaches BC and Alberta. Shaw reaches from BC to Ontario. Rogers reaches coast-to-coast. (Note: Prices may vary slightly by region and not all internet services are available in all regions.)
COST: What are you willing to pay?
Home internet is a utility that is billed monthly. Like cellphone plans, you choose your package of services early on, based on your needs and budget, and then roll with it for the long term. There are key differences between packages, or tiers. One, perhaps the most prominent, is price. How much is this stuff gonna cost you every month?
Each home internet provider has four to six different tiers, going from "cheap" (this is highly debatable) to expensive (no argument there). Telus plans start at $30 and end at $68. Sound pricey? Telus actually has the lowest-cost end plan. Bell tiers range from $35 to $71; Rogers ranges from $28 to $99; and Shaw ranges from $37 to $135. In between, every carrier has two or three more plans with medium-range prices.
SPEED: How fast do you want your internet to be?
Price, while of utmost importance, is not everything. After all, if something doesn't meet your needs, it isn't really worth anything. At the same time, there's no need to overpay. Unlike cellphone plans, where speed is a more linear standard, home internet plans have very wild differences in how fast your internet will run. Therefore, the second key factor in determining the ideal package is speed.
Speed is crucial to users because most people want everything to be instant. Remember the days of dial-up? You probably don't want to. All four internet providers begin their entry-level tiers by offering download speeds of 1 to 2 megabytes per second and upload speeds of about 256 kilobytes per second. This is quite slow for anyone but the most casual of web surfers. At these "lite" and "ultra-lite" speeds, it could take anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds or more to download a single HD photograph, a minute or two to download a song from iTunes, and several hours to download a full length movie. Not very tolerable for most intensive tasks.
Meanwhile, top-end plans like Shaw's Unlimited 100 and Rogers Ultimate offer speeds of 50 to 100 Mbps—downloading photos and songs in a single second, and entire movies in just a couple of minutes. There are plans ranging from 10 to 25 Mpbs in between, of course, so don't feel like you only have these two starkly contrasting options. But it's important not to underestimate how dramatically these speeds can affect your experience.
DATA CAPS: How much will you use your internet?
The third key factor is usage. How much do you use the internet? The answer to this question helps determine your ideal plan. Home internet providers employ data caps as a way of further controlling the consumer, and profit immensely from severe overage fees—so don't choose a plan where you might tip your data usage over the edge. You'll get burned.
The starting plans can be quite restrictive; Rogers and Bell cap usage at just 2 gigabytes. This is good for 200,000 emails, which is great… but a single movie can be 2 gigabytes, and daily web browsing (especially on sites like YouTube) will very quickly eat away at this tiny cap. Telus and Shaw more generously offer up to 30 gigabytes in their basic packages.
High-end tiers, of course, blow the ceiling to the sky: Bell offers up to 75 Gb, Rogers 175 Gb, Telus 500 Gb, and Shaw makes the internet your oyster with its unlimited internet plan.
Other Things to Consider
1. Perks (or lack thereof). Price, speed, and limits are what makes or breaks a plan. Are there other factors? Sure. Different home internet providers offer various perks, like emails and webpages… but to be frank, it's worthless crap to the overwhelming majority of folks. Sticking to the three core factors will serve you much better.
2. Customer service (or lack thereof). Customer service experiences, good or bad, are famous for creating permanent opinions of companies. But this factor is so subjective and often looked at the wrong way by consumers—they say they hate the company, but they really just hate a certain customer service rep. Choose your company based on plan, not what you've heard from a friend about customer service, and it's less likely you'll regret your decision.
3. Bundles and promotions. Typically, you can shave a few bucks off a plan by bundling it with another plan from the same company, such as a cable package. Do not bundle unless you want everything included in the bundle, from that company, for logical and rational reasons. Bundling because it sounds like a money saver is seldom wise; it's not worth saving a couple bucks a month to end up with services that don't satisfy. Do not consider it inefficient to have your TV plan with one company and your internet plan with another if that's how it works out—having the services you want, within your budget, is what counts.
You'll also notice that some home internet providers will have a promotion going on—"Hey, get internet for only 10 bucks a month dude!" Read the fine print, always. Often, these promotions last for as little as six months before the price jacks back up to its original cost. Buying a plan that's one tier above what you need because you save money for six months is short-sighted. Imagine the regrets that will flood in when your bill suddenly doubles or triples. Stick to your guns, because if it looks too good to be true, it probably is—especially when it comes to Rogers, Telus, Bell, and Shaw.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, most packages are largely the same. However, the differences—while subtle—are enough to affect your choice and tip a wise consumer over to the right side of the fence. But I can't tell you which way to lean. You need to prioritize cost, speed, and budgetary needs, then peruse the options available in your region. No one provider or no one plan is ideal for everyone. Choice is a good thing.
Please share your tips and experiences with choosing home internet from any of these providers, or let us know about your favourite provider not mentioned in this guide. And happy hunting!