03/04/2015 12:13 EST | Updated 05/04/2015 05:59 EDT

CRTC rules Northwestel must reduce internet rates 10-30 per cent

In a decision that will affect many Northern Canadians, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommuncations Commission (CRTC) will require Northwestel to lower rates for residential Internet services by 10 to 30 per cent.

The decision is the latest aspect of the modernization plan ordered by the CRTC in 2011. Northwestel's Internet rates were called into question by the CRTC in late 2013. Rates in the territories often approached three to four times those in Southern Canada.

"Although we recognize the exceptional situation that exists in Northwestel's territory, we must not let these challenges hinder the development and affordability of telecommunications services in the North," CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in a statement. "Access to reasonably priced Internet services plays an essential role in the North's economic and social development.

"With this decision, we are reducing the gap between what consumers pay for Internet services in the northern and southern parts of Canada."

Northwestel is required to reduce the rates for its DSL Internet Lite and DSL Internet 2 rate plans by 10 per cent. The company's rates for its DSL Internet 5 and DSL Internet 15 plans will be required to come down by 30 per cent.

Northwestel has also been told by the CRTC not to increase any of its residential Internet rates until the end of 2017 at the earliest, and only with the permission of the CRTC.

The telecom provider will also no longer be allowed to charge additional fees to customers who only use Internet services, and don't subscribe to a bundle with telephone service. It has also been required to lower charges for customers who go over the data usage allowed in their Internet plans by at least $0.50 per gigabyte. In the Northwest Territories, Northwestel currently charges $2 to $3 for every gigabyte customers use above the limits set in their plans.

That change must take effect by February of 2016, but customers should see reductions in their monthly bills by May 4, 2015, according to a statement released by the CRTC.