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Teksavvy DSL Internet for Ontario

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High speed Internet in Canada is a warped reflection of most of the governments in this country – it’s expensive, oftentimes broken and usually impossible to contact by telephone. That the latter has set up the rules for the former will surprise almost no one.

Residential DSL Internet access employs a conventional telephone line to connect your computer to the ‘net, and it will more or less allow said phone line to be used for conventional voice phone calls while it’s doing so. DSL is always on, and it’s usually quick enough for almost anything you’d like to access over the Internet, including streaming video and interactive games.

After an eternity of satellite and 3G Internet access, we recently received a letter from Bell to the effect that DSL was now available in our area. For some while, we were certain it must be an hallucination, or some sort of joke in profoundly poor taste, in that we’re so far out in the sticks that the local bears outnumber the pickup trucks. In defense of our cynicism, we’ve received that letter several times in the past, only to be told that it had arrived as a result of a programming error.

This one proved to be genuine. We too were shocked.

La Belle

In most parts of Canada – including ours – the network that provides residential DSL Internet access is owned by the dominant local phone company, usually Bell. However, the aforementioned government has mandated that while Bell can enjoy a monopoly on owning its network, it’s required to share access to it. This has meant that anyone who wants to be a telecommunications company can buy blocks of bandwidth from Bell and use Bell’s network to resell said bandwidth to subscribers.

The result of this odd bit of corporate slight-of-hand is that while your DSL will be provided by Bell, you need not actually have anything to do with Bell, should you find an independent DSL provider with a pricing structure that better suits your needs.

You’ll receive precisely the same DSL, no matter who you buy it from.

As an aside, these independent telecommunications micro-empires will usually also sell you home phone service at prices that are somewhat more competitive than Bell’s. There are probably upper management corner-office residents at Bell Canada who have all their speed-dial entries occupied by the numbers of anger management therapists over this situation.

Canada suffers under some of the most rapacious telecommunications pricing in the western world, and DSL Internet access is no exception to this unfortunate observation. In that Bell sets the price of the bandwidth it sells to independent DSL providers, whoever you choose to provide you with DSL will be pretty much stuck with charging their subscribers prices more or less in keeping with what Bell demands. This said, however, shopping around for a DSL provider is unquestionably worth the effort.

As a rule, Bell’s DSL prices aren’t unattractive if you can bundle your DSL with a number of other Bell services, such as a conventional home telephone, satellite television or a mobile device. The prices offered by independent DSL providers are usually way more attractive than those of Bell if all you want to buy today is DSL.

In addition to the monthly credit card abuse for DSL Internet, the various independent DSL providers available to residents of Ontario have subtly different menus of features and options, which you can fine-tune to get more of what you want for less of what you’d rather spend on other stuff.

There are several dozen independent DSL providers in Ontario as of this writing, each with a slightly different bucket of options and costs thereof.

Teksavvy, the DSL provider we ultimately chose, arguably suits our needs better than its various competitors. This is not to say that they’ll be the optimum choice for yours – an hour or two with Google will turn up lots of other contenders, and you’ll do well to scrutinize their web pages before you start clicking on Submit buttons.

Basic DSL with download speeds approaching six megabits per second costs about thirty dollars a month from most independent DSL providers in Ontario as of this writing. Faster download speeds cost more – this wasn’t a concern for us, as the first-tier, lowest speed DSL service was all we could access out here. I wouldn’t wish this to be regarded as a lament of any sort – it’s still way better than the 3G device it replaced.

Several of the putative DSL providers we bumped into promised to improve on this price slightly, usually in exchange for a lengthy contract. Teksavvy, by comparison, demanded nothing long-term or signed in blood. Its service can be terminated with a month’s notice.

I should also note that we encountered a few DSL providers with substantially higher monthly rates, and no apparent reason for expecting them save the hope that occasionally someone clueless enough to pay them might hit their pages.

Unlike several of the DSL providers we considered, Teksavvy won’t provide you with the hardware necessary to connect your computer to the Internet as part of its initial setup – this being a DSL modem – although they’ll sell you one on the side if you wish. While this will entail your acquiring a suitable modem yourself – a minor bit of shopping – it will also save you some cash and allow you to choose a modem less likely to see your walls inflicted with numerous dents in the shape of your forehead. Some of the available DSL modems are better suited for use as cat toys.

We’ll deal with the issue of DSL modems in greater detail momentarily.

In shopping around for a DSL provider, it’s well worth getting the issue of exactly what you want in a DSL connection firmly by the throat, because the details thereof will have a profound influence on your choice.

Among the things you’ll want to consider are:

  1. TV or not TV: If you plan to stream video, download movies or play a lot of high-bandwidth games over your DSL connection, you’ll probably want a pricing structure which offers either a very big gulp of bandwidth or an unlimited bandwidth option. If you envision none of the foregoing, you should see who has the most affordable entry-level pricing, in that there’s little point in paying for a lot of bandwidth you’ll never use.
  2. Fixed IP address: There are a few somewhat more exotic applications of the Internet that require a fixed IP address – this includes VPN, some gaming and running a server over your DSL connection. The pricing and availability of fixed IP addresses varies a lot among independent DSL providers.
  3. Call for help: The quality of the technical support available from the independent DSL providers we considered was somewhat ineffable. Some of them appeared to offer no live phone support at all. Should your Internet access disappear, you’d have to e-mail for assistance. If the previous sentence didn’t seem at least slightly preposterous, you probably want to read it again. It’s a really good idea to invent a few support questions and try to call the support line of a putative DSL provider to get them answered before you beat up your plastic.

Teksavvy offers a data cap of 75 gigabytes per month in its entry-level six megabit-per-second pricing structure. Thus far, in months where we’ve downloaded everything in sight, we’ve managed to just exceed fifteen gigabytes. Admittedly, we don’t watch TV or download movies over the ‘net. They also offer 300-gigabyte and unlimited bandwidth packages.

In a somewhat unusual billing structure, downloads completed during the small hours of the morning won’t count toward the bandwidth caps of Teksavvy’s users… should you be disposed to staying up really, really late.

The cost for a single fixed IP address from Teksavvy was an additional four dollars per month, easily among the lowest prices we encountered for this option.

Calling Teksavvy’s support line on those occasions when we genuinely needed assistance has been somewhat variable. We’ve lucked out and found ourselves speaking to a real human being within minutes – we’ve also dangled on hold for half an hour on a few occasions. To their credit, Teksavvy’s support staff appear to hail from Chatham, Ontario rather than Mumbai, India.

Those of Teksavvy’s support staff we’ve dealt with have proven knowledgeable and ready to be of assistance.

The Setup

It must be said that getting wired up with Teksavvy wasn’t without its rough edges and moments of incandescent fury. Signing up on line proved to be linguistically challenging, as a bug in their form page at the time caused it to appear in French, and nothing else. This left signing up by telephone – while the woman who handled the transaction was cheerful and clearly spoke English as a first language, the conversation represented half an hour of my life that I’ll never get back. Much of it was spent listening to disclaimers.

It took several weeks for Teksavvy to persuade Bell to activate our DSL connection, for us to persuade Teksavvy that it wasn’t working and for Bell to send George the repair guy out to the house to discover that someone had forgotten to install a jumper for our location at the mysterious metal box down the road. George the repair guy was particularly agreeable, and even called us half an hour after all the lights on our DSL modem finally came on to make sure that nothing further was amiss.

Teksavvy’s billing department was less agreeable. They started billing us shortly after we completed the sign up, which meant that we wound up paying for about two weeks of dead air. When this matter was brought to the attention of Teksavvy, they offered to credit us back two days worth of these charges, based on an eldritch calculation of how long Bell had officially been on the case resolving the problem. They eventually escalated this compensation up to all of six days… admittedly after I’d spent way more of my time arguing with them by e-mail than the compensation was worth. Refunding the entire overcharge would have set Teksavvy back about sixteen dollars.

Once it was working – and absent a few initial hardware issues that were clearly the fault of neither Bell nor Teksavvy – our new DSL was impressively stable and reliable. It has thus far experienced less down time than the sun. While DSL is by its nature a shared resource, and its data speeds vary somewhat, periodic speed tests have our connection returning about five megabits per second download on average, which is pretty respectable.

Some brief mention of DSL modem hardware is probably warranted in discussing DSL providers, as we traversed a small but uncomfortably toasty corner of hell finding a suitable device to work with our new DSL service. Teksavvy will provide you with a DSL modem, and while buying one from them will ensure that the little plastic box you receive is suitable for use with their service, it won’t be cheap.

As of this writing, Teksavvy will sell you a Thomson Speedtouch 516 DSL modem for $75.00, plus ten dollars shipping, plus the traditional two levels of sales tax – that would be $96.05 when the dust settles – or a ZyXel VSG 1432 VDSL2 DSL modem with a four-port router and a wireless interface for a total of $158.20. These costs represent the high end of the price spectrum for these devices, and both are several years old.

We use TP-Link DSL modems with our Teksavvy DSL account – with free shipping from Amazon – which cost about a third of what the foregoing devices would have beat up our credit cards for. In practice, any ADSL2+ modem that supports PPP over Ethernet and G.dmt should work.

In addition to a DSL modem, you’ll also likely want at least one DSL filter, a device to keep the high-frequency noise generated by a DSL connection out of your voice telephone conversations. You’ll need one for each voice telephone device in your house. The Teksavvy employee who handled our signup mentioned that these little boxes are readily available from Canadian Tire… which they are. The GE DSL filters we got from Canadian Tire, however, barely muted the ocean-like roar of digital noise in our phones. Remarkably, the DSL filters sold by The Source proved to be way better behaved, and ours have shut down all the DSL interference they encountered. Perhaps not surprisingly, they cost twice what the cheap ones did.

Hard Wired

The best Internet provider is one that keeps its demands of your credit card down to a manageable level of immensity and is otherwise entirely forgettable. In this regard Teksavvy arguably qualifies as being as good as it’s likely to get in Canada. They’re friendly, competent, affordable and somewhat removed from an overbearing uber-corporation with designs on world domination.

Their web page isn’t beset with bad graphics and spelling errors, either.

In considering Teksavvy, you’ll probably want to pay particular attention to their pricing structure… especially those aspects of it listed under Add-Ons and Other Charges at the Teksavvy web page. None of them are unduly onerous… at least, they didn’t seem so to us… but it’s worth evaluating them in light of your specific needs.

Finally, I found it heartening to note that Teksavvy’s web page greets its visitors with a picture of a seductive woman eating an apple, featured at the beginning of this review, rather than the Flash animations and bad stock photography that most other DSL providers feature. This will make little difference to your Internet access, of course, but it suggests that there might yet be some faint hope that not all Canadian telecommunications companies need remain entirely soulless.

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