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Utqiagvik GCI users reach data cap earlier than normal

December 8th, 2017 | Shady Grove Oliver Print this article   Email this article  

A handful of Utqiaġvik residents are voicing concerns about their internet provider after they received notices regarding their data usage they believe are not true.

"It's frustrating, because I know I use the internet heavily. I'm willing to pay for my usage, but I'm not willing to pay for usage that's not mine," said local resident Jake Calderwood.

Calderwood explained he received a message from GCI, which manages his home service, that stated he had reached his data cap 18 days before the end of his last billing cycle.

He posted about the notice on his Facebook page. His post garnered dozens of responses, several of which were from other residents saying they, too, had been told they'd gone over their cap much earlier than usual. Calderwood noted he does usually exceed his cap each month, but not to this degree.

"Typically, in the past, when I've gone over, it's been within four to five days at most. I use the internet a lot, and I understand that. Living in Utqiaġvik, I'm no stranger to knowing that things cost more here and I'm willing to pay. But it's just a little crazy, because this particular month, I started to get suspicious when several of my friends also were saying, 'Yeah, I also got an email from GCI and I also reached my data cap really early in the month,' and even friends who were telling me they never go over on their data and this month it happened," he said.

GCI Spokesperson Heather Handyside confirmed if a customer on a No Worries plan, which Calderwood has, exceeds their data cap, they are notified and have the option to buy additional "data buckets" to get them through the month.

Calderwood said he typically will purchase one or two additional 10-gigabyte buckets per month, costing $10 per bucket. However, given how early the notice came this month, he estimates he'd have to pay more than $100 to get through the cycle, on top of his usual bill of $315.

The way the company knows when someone is reaching their limit is by tracking customers' data usage by day.

"Customers can view their usage on the GCI usage viewer, which is available to all customers via an app, and online when they log into their GCI account," explained Handyside.

Calderwood checked that app, which showed something he thought was impossible: that he was using data while he was out of town.

"I went on vacation to Fairbanks over Thanksgiving and nothing — not one WiFi device, not one hardline device — was connected to the network. According to their usage app, I used six to seven gigabytes per day while I was in Fairbanks," he said.

However, GCI does not track how customers use their data, meaning they cannot see what customers' online activity is or tell what type of service they are using; like a calling app or email or a movie-streaming service.

"If they're going to place blame on the customer for using that much data, they need to back that up with more specific tracking," he said. "I know that you get into a gray area of privacy where people don't want them tracking everything they do on the internet, but you can't really make the claim against someone saying, 'You used this data.', when, on my end, I'm tracking it and I know I'm not using that data," he said.

He describes himself as "not a novice" when it comes to the internet and networking. Because he frequently goes over his data cap, Calderwood said he's been paying special attention to his usage and has taken steps to ensure his network is secure and used thoughtfully.

"Before I left on vacation, I logged on — and my networking equipment shows the MAC (media access control) address of every single device connected to my network. I made sure there were no devices connected to it," he said. "Of course, it's a WiFi network, which, as we know, all WiFi networks, even the most secure, are vulnerable, but I'm pretty confident that the level of security I have on my network is sound enough that there was no intrusion onto my network. There was nothing plugged into the networking equipment."

He even uses a random 26-character password generator for his WiFi, so nobody can connect without him knowing. Even he does not know what his password is without checking his password manager site.

Handyside said sometimes people who travel will encounter usage bumps when they return.

"What can happen is, even people who unplug, when they plug things back in, depending on what they have connected, the system will download a bunch of new information to bring it up to speed to where it should be because it was offline. So, you'll often see a bunch of data downloaded immediately and it doesn't appear to the user that they're using that much," she explained, speaking in general and not specifically about Calderwood's case.

He noted that he tracks his own data usage using a third-party application, along with regularly checking the GCI usage app, and the numbers don't appear to match up.

"If they can't prove that I used that much data other than their computers saying something was connected, that's not proof enough," he said.

Aside from the data used while he said he was out of town, Calderwood said he is concerned that the GCI app shows he used 40 gigs — nearly half his monthly plan's allowance — in a single day, with 20 gigs used for uploading and 20 for downloading.

"When I talked to the technical support representative, he said typically, when it's equal like that, it's something like using FaceTime or Skype. But, I haven't used FaceTime or Skype any more than the average month over the last six years I've lived here. I could see that [happening] if you were on FaceTime all day, but I never have a call that's longer than an hour or an hour and 15 minutes," he said. "To be fair to each individual representative, though, they may not know."

The Sounder was not able to confirm how Calderwood has been specifically using his data.

GCI representatives said there haven't been any indications of an error with the usage tracker or anything particular to Utqiaġvik users that could possibly account for incorrect numbers, but said they would continue to look into any potential problems.

Handyside said she encourages any customers who believe there is a problem to contact GCI by calling their customer service line at 1-800-800-4800, or visiting a store in person. She also noted GCI receives reports of issues when people tag them in Facebook posts or contact them online.

As for Calderwood, he's hoping GCI will help compensate customers, like him, who believe they were capped much too soon, either through data or financial credits.


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