Local internet providers not worried about Sympatico House calls something the big boys don’t do By Paul Andrew The advent of electronic mail and instant access to information from around the world or perhaps down the street — better known as the internet — has expanded communications in a way that 10 years ago would have seemed preposterous. It has also created a high-tech industry in every Canadian town. In Whistler, at least three companies act as Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, helping people access the internet through a complicated system of radio wave transmissions and land communication lines. So when BC Tel announced a few weeks ago that it would be letting Whistlerites access the Web via its Sympatico system, the thinking was that sooner or later, local ISPs would soon be out of business. Not so, says Shane Bennett at Whistler Web. "Right now they are taking some business away from me, about three or four customers a week," Bennett said. "There’s two kinds of service Sympatico offers; ADSL and dial-up service. The ADSL is fast but it’s expensive. What happens there is you get charged for logging on and each time you download an image or document, so it’s expensive. Then there’s the dial-up service. We can’t compete with them there on price but we can with service because we’re local." Bennett says he can also offer telephone "connectivity" to give internet users, with the proper hardware, long distance calling free once they are logged on. "They won’t do that, obviously, because they are a telephone company," Bennett explained. Bruce MacDonald, who owns and operates Advanced Internet Service Ltd. in Whistler, says he saw the change coming months before Sympatico moved in to the Whistler and Pemberton Valleys, so he’s adjusted his rates to suit the current climate. "I only lost one customer that I know of," MacDonald said last week. "I think it’s important too that I supply an appropriate E-mail address. For a Whistlerite to have "Whistler" somewhere in their address, they think that’s important." MacDonald said his billing structure is more flexible than BC Tel’s, and that his customers appreciate the same service Bennett offers — house calls, if necessary. "Local support? Most of it is over the phone," MacDonald said. "But yesterday was my house calls day. Sympatico techs are good over the phone but for really big problems, they obviously won’t come out to your house." MacDonald says he increased his rates rather than reducing them because his monthly internet package is comparable to Sympatico. And he says his business is growing, not shrinking. "During the last two months I finally started to show a profit," he added. Despite reliable local and regional internet suppliers which use telephone lines for connectivity, cable TV networks have recently made much headway in the marketplace and are doing brisk business in the Lower Mainland, according to sale representatives at Rogers Cable in Vancouver. "We’re all working overtime here," said "Jeff" at the Rogers at Home High Speed Internet Service centre. "I can’t speak for the whole company but I’m very busy. The system is simple. We install a cable outlet beside your computer, and then we install a special cable modem in your computer. We have to install it because it’s not on the Canadian market yet." Whistler Cable TV’s head engineer, Doug Lepard, confirmed last week that Whistler Cable is now in the process of setting up its cable network to provide internet access, and that the local cable business will have the system ready by the end of the summer or early fall. Lepard could not go into detail about home service. "We charge $39.95 per month if you already have cable, $49.95 if you don’t," Jeff said of Rogers’ service in the city. "But the thing is that’s the flat rate. We don’t charge by the hour. You can surf the net 24 hours a day, seven day a week for one monthly rate when you use cable to access the internet."