Consumer groups have slammed Microsoft for its policy of forced updates for Windows 10, which is hitting customers in remote locations with massive bill shocks by blowing out their data caps.
But they warn bill shock may affect many more customers, regardless of where they are located. And, with many customers yet to receive their monthly internet bills, the full extent of the problem may not yet be apparent.
Maureen Hilyard, an internet user in the Cook Islands, an autonomous region associated with New Zealand, claims she faces a bill as much as $NZ600 ($A532) for the month of August, thanks to Windows 10 automatic updates.
Windows 10’s forced updates are causing some customers headaches. Photo: Reuters
EFA executive officer Jon Lawrence said EFA was "very concerned" about reports from internet users in remote locations whose bandwidth had been "completely swamped" by forced updates.
"In this context, where internet access is both painfully slow and seriously expensive, these forced updates are almost literally forcing people off the internet and are resulting in massive excess data charges," Mr Lawrence said.
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Bluesky, the monopoly telco in the Cook Islands, charges $NZ49 ($43) a month for 3.5GB of data on its broadband service, plus 4 cents per megabyte thereafter. The service is mainly delivered by satellite through a partnership with 03b Networks.
By comparison, Telstra, Australia’s largest telco, charges $35 a month for a 4GB data cap 4G mobile broadband plan, and an excess data charge of only 1 cent per megabyte. Telstra’s basic plan on a faster fixed-line broadband service is $75 per month, but includes 100GB of data.
The EFA was not yet aware of any complaints on the mainland about Windows 10 forced updates, but such complaints were "expected", Mr Lawrence said.
Teresa Corbin, chief executive of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), the peak body that represents consumers on communications issues, said many consumers were unaware of Windows 10’s forced updates, or did not realise the initial 3GB Windows 10 upgrade file might cause them problems in terms of data usage.
"It doesn’t matter where you live; you need to make sure you’re not using mobile broadband [for upgrades]," Ms Corbin said.
"If you can, use a wireless [Wi-Fi] option or another option, such as paying someone to install it in a shop."
Microsoft began rolling out Windows 10 for PC and tablet devices globally on July 29, so customers whose monthly billing cycle is not yet complete may be unaware of any looming bill shock.
To add insult to injury, Microsoft has confirmed it is hijacking users’ internet connections to upload software updates to other users, through "peer-to-peer" technology.
While the practice takes a load off Microsoft’s servers, it may also cause headaches for users with data caps or slow internet connections.
A Microsoft spokesman said the initial 3GB Windows 10 upgrade file was a "typical download size for operating systems", and stressed that all users on capped connections would see a message pop up on their screen warning them of potential extra charges from their internet service provider (ISP) before they agreed to download the file.
"As with Windows 8.1, Windows 10 won’t automatically download updates or apps if it detects the PC uses a metered connection," the spokesman said.
A Telstra spokeswoman advised customers wishing to upgrade to Windows 10 to do so while connected to Wi-Fi or fixed-line broadband only, not mobile broadband.
ACCAN is advising users not to upgrade to Windows 10 "at this point in time", and for those who have already done so to roll back to their previous version of Windows, which they can do through Windows 10 settings within 31 days of upgrading.
Ms Corbin said customers experiencing bill shock should speak to their internet service provider.
The EFA’s Mr Lawrence urged Microsoft to "urgently rethink" its forced updates policy.
Users already signed up to Windows 10 and worried about bill shock may take comfort in the form of a workaround.
Users can tweak their Windows 10 system settings by enabling a "metered connection" by searching for "Change Wi-Fi settings" in the start menu, clicking on "Advanced Options" and enabling "Metered connection". This lets Windows 10 know the Wi-Fi connection you’re on is capped, so instead of forcing a software update onto your PC or tablet, it will notify you first. You can then choose to delay the upgrade until you are on an uncapped connection, or until you’ve rolled over into a fresh month of data.
This workaround only applies to Wi-Fi connections, however, not Ethernet connections.
A second workaround actually comes in an update which Microsoft itself released. It’s a bit more fiddly though, as it involves manually uninstalling driver updates and then downloading a special troubleshooter app to prevent them from installing again automatically. The full instructions are available online.
Despite the concerns, Windows 10 has received generally positive reviews from information technology experts, supporting the popular adage that every other Windows release is a winner, separated by duds.
Australian users experiencing issues with Windows 10 are being urged to contact Microsoft through its Windows 10 support line during business hours on 132 058.