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Bell Canada Buys Its Way to the Top of Google Search Engine Rankings for Usage Based Billing

Posted By Joe Kelly On March 20, 2011 @ 12:38 pm In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Yesterday while doing research on usage based billing for another story in my series [1] on UBB, I came across some interesting search engine results. I wanted to see how one of my recent UBB stories was performing in Google search engine rankings. I had spent quite a bit of time doing search engine optimization (SEO) on that story [2] and was expecting good search engine results. As it turns out, my SEO work was pretty effective. When I ran a search on“usage based billing actual cost”, my NerdBoys.com story was the third highest ranking page out of a whopping 196,000 pages. Not bad, if I do say so myself! Furthermore, when I ran a search on “usage based billing marginal cost”, my story was the second highest ranking page out of 20,000 pages. Sweet!

But who was first, you ask? For the answer, check out the two screen shots below from the Google search results:

Google Search Results: usage based billing actual cost [3]

Google Search Results: usage based billing actual cost

Google Search Results: usage based billing marginal cost [4]

Google Search Results: usage based billing marginal cost

As you can see, in both cases, a story from Bell Canada’s website was ranked first…or was it? If you look closely, you’ll see that Bell’s “story” is actually a paid Google ad, also known as a sponsored link. Why spend any time doing search engine optimization when you have deep enough pockets to buy your way to the top? Perhaps I’m being to harsh on Bell. Maybe we should have a look at Bell’s story before we pass judgment.

If you click on Bell’s sponsored link, it will take you to a story entitled “What is Usage-based Billing (UBB)? [5]“. In the story, Bell does make a few compelling arguments in favor of UBB. For example, “The heaviest Internet users should not be subsidized by the great majority of Internet customers”. I agree with that. But aren’t they stating the utterly obvious there? I mean, who would ever want to subsidize anyone else for anything…unless you’re running a charity or something.

I think Bell is not hearing what UBB opponents are saying. Of course we don’t want to subsidize the people who download a terabyte of p0rn every month. And of course we realize that we can’t get something for nothing. We know that we have to pay for what we use.

For me, the biggest problem with UBB is the massive premium that Bell and the other incumbents charge if you go over your monthly data limits. As documented in my recent story Usage Based Billing for Internet Access Fails the Smell Test [2], the premium is absolutely ridiculous. For example, Bell will charge you anywhere from $1.00 per GB up to a whopping $2.50 per GB for every GB over the monthly limit, even though Netflix [6], in its recent annual report [7], suggests that the marginal cost is as low 1 cent per GB. With such a disparity between price and cost, it’s no wonder that Canadian consumers are so upset about UBB.

I don’t mind paying for what I use as long as the price is reasonable. I would have no problem with paying 15 to 20 cents per GB over the monthly limit but $2.50 is totally unreasonable.

Is there anyway of escaping these massive penalty charges? If you look closely enough at Bell’s internet package information pages, you’ll eventually find a link entitled Need more usage? [8]. If you click on that link, it will take you to page [8] about Bell’s “Usage Insurance Plan”.

With Bell’s Usage Insurance Plan, you buy extra data download and upload capacity to protect you from the penalty you would otherwise incur for going over your monthly limit. Here’s the plan’s pricing, as of March 19, 2011:

  • $5/month for 40 GB
  • $10/month for 80 GB
  • $15/month for 120 GB

If my math is correct, that works out to a charge of only 12.5 cents per GB. Now that is actually quite reasonable. Presumably, Bell’s marginal cost of delivering that extra GB must be less than 12.5 cents per GB, otherwise they would lose money on the plan. So why is the penalty charge for going over your limit without the Usage Insurance Plan between $1.00 and $2.50 per GB? That’s 8 to 20 times higher than the insurance plan rate! Is that reasonable? I don’t think so. I think a penalty charge of 20 to 25 cents per GB would be more reasonable. Bell would still be making money, while also giving you an incentive to save some money by getting the Usage Insurance Plan.

By making the penalty charge so much higher that the Usage Insurance Plan rate, some consumers will undoubtedly buy the plan “just to be safe”, whether they need it or not. It’s a great opportunity for Bell’s sales reps to “upsell” customers based on FUD [9] (Fear, Uncertainly and Doubt). It’s a classic marketing tactic and Bell will be laughing all the way to the bank. I bet if you asked most Canadian internet users how much data capacity they use in a month, they wouldn’t have a clue. It’s not like a cell phone plan where your monthly bill shows you the airtime you used for that month. I’ve never seen a bill from my ISP that included my data usage. Ideally, Bell and the other incumbents should start putting your data usage on your monthly bill so that you can make informed decisions about whether or not to buy the Usage Insurance Plan. Don’t hold your breath on that one because I don’t think it will happen anytime soon.

While I’m at it, I’ve got some other quibbles about Bell’s story [5]. Check out this quote from Bell’s story:

UBB is not new. In fact, most major network providers have been employing this pricing approach for many years simply to ensure that those who use the most network capacity pay for what they use. That means the majority of Internet customers like you and me aren’t paying the costs of the small number of heavy downloaders who put the greatest strain on network capacity.

I am utterly confused by the “Internet customers like you and me” part. Since the article is not attributed to any particular author’s name, it would seem to be written by Bell itself (third person). As such, the first person reference to “me” seems somewhat confusing. Furthermore, Bell is not an internet “customer” but rather an internet “supplier”.

It seems to me that perhaps the purpose of using the language “Internet customers like you and me” is to personify [10] Bell and to make it seem like they are on our (the customers) side and that the we (the customers and Bell) are up against the evil internet bandwidth hogs. Call me crazy but I find this language offensive. Don’t you?

Here’s one more quote that I have a problem with:

It’s an approach employed by service providers of all kinds – electrical utilities, your gas company… even Tim Hortons and Starbucks! If you consume a lot, you pay more than those who don’t.

Excuse me? Tim Hortons and Starbucks? I’m sorry but I just don’t understand the analogy. Tim Hortons and Starbucks sell products: donuts and coffee. Bell and the other big telcos sell a service: internet access. I just don’t see the relevance of comparing Tim Hortons to Bell. I like both Tim Hortons and Starbucks and I don’t like seeing their names sullied by lumping them in with the UBB crowd. I’m not a fanboy of Tim Hortons and Starbucks. I just think it’s unfair of Bell to associate those companies with the concept of UBB in any way, shape or form.

Now lest you think I’m being unfair to Bell, note that I sent an email to Bell’s Media Relations [11] department on March 10, 2011 to ask them if they wished to comment on my concerns with their story. I’m still waiting for a reply.

Agree with me? Disagree with me? Leave a comment.

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  • [12]

    Article printed from Nerd Boys: http://nerdboys.com

    URL to article: http://nerdboys.com/2011/03/20/bell-canada-buys-its-way-to-the-top-of-google-search-engine-rankings-for-usage-based-billing/

    URLs in this post:

    [1] series: http://nerdboys.com/tag/usage-based-billing/

    [2] story: http://nerdboys.com/2011/03/04/usage-based-billing-fails-the-smell-test/

    [3] Image: http://nerdboys.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Google-Search-Usage-Based-Billing-Actual-Cost-Ad.jpg

    [4] Image: http://nerdboys.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Google-Search-Usage-Based-Billing-Marginal-Cost-Ad.jpg

    [5] What is Usage-based Billing (UBB)?: http://www.bell.ca/shopping/PrsShp_Bell_Internet-usage_based_billing_UBB.page

    [6] Netflix: http://nerdboys.com/2011/01/17/netflix-canada-review/

    [7] report: http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/NFLX/1144708839x0x437075/925e81c4-3d5d-44b6-ae5e-a70c91251131/Q410%20Letter%20to%20shareholders.pdf

    [8] Need more usage?: http://www.bell.ca/shopping/popups/personal/internet/usage_en.html

    [9] FUD: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear,_uncertainty_and_doubt

    [10] personify: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personify

    [11] Media Relations: http://www.bce.ca/en/contact/#media_relations


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