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“EZESURF” – Sorry But We Are Now Closed

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"EZESURF" - The UK’s longest running freecall Internet provider - Sorry But We Are Now Closed

The 9th of September 1999 saw the launch of the UK’s first free Internet Service Provider offering unlimited 24/7 access for a fixed monthly fee. This service was called 08004U. Before the official launch we had in place all of the contracts and services necessary to make 08004U capable of handling several thousands of users. Within days of advertising the launch of 08004U, the service proved so popular we couldn’t cope with the calls. In the worst cases, it took a customer three weeks to get through to customer services.

08004U was designed like any other Internet Service Provider to offer access on a user to modem ratio. However, since nearly all users ended up logging on at the same time, this started to result in many engaged tones and poor quality service. We moved the service to another network provider, a business which promised us that the users’ caller line identification would have to be authorised by us before they would let users online. We didn’t realise until some time later that in fact the network provider had been unable to keep this promise, and was allowing anybody on. We had over 22,000 people using our free access without our approval.

After that, we had to suspend the freecall service, and started to arrange new contracts and services for 08004U. Unfortunately, as most 08004U customers will be aware, this didn’t happen quickly. In fact, it took a bit over a week to arrange a new supplier for 08004U; but it then took another eleven weeks to get the service live again. We had to call the re-launched service something new. EzeSurf was launched.

Our telecommunications business went to a very reputable company called Energis. In fact, we would recommend them to any company seeking telecommunications with least cost routing, ISDN lines and non-geographical numbers. Energis referred us to Planet Online (now known as Energis Squared). This started the ball rolling again to provide customers with a freecall service. However, there then followed weeks of discussions, during which Planet Online couldn’t give us a firm start date when they would provide the service to us. So, in all honesty, we kept telling our customers we had no start date but were aiming to start our service within weeks.

Time passed, then less than a week before Christmas 1999 we received a call from Planet Online asking for a written proposal before they would take things further. So, after having already given them all the necessary templates, we had to spend several days putting this written proposal together. Several days after that, Planet Online agreed to provide the service.

But again weeks went by before we received a contract from Planet Online, and still more weeks went by before we finally went live in February 2000.

During these times, it was hard for our company to survive; but in fact, for a small Dundee business, we had achieved a great deal. We weren't perfect, but we were getting there. The staff stood behind the company even when, in January, wages were late.

Ezesurf was launched in February 2000, as a new sister company to 08004U. We contacted all customers advising them accordingly, and offered them a move to Ezesurf. Some customers accepted this offer, and some opted for refunds.

In February we launched a new package for users. In this new package, the cost for freecall was set at £234.99 per annum. However, just weeks after our launch, we had to reduce the price. Yes, Altavista got major free publicity for promising to launch in July 2000, yet there was no mention about Ezesurf already providing the 24/7 freecall access service which Altavista were promising.

Yeah, but that’s the way it goes. We approached several newspapers, only to be told it was old news. Anyway, with the promised launch of AltaVista, and other ISPs promising similar services, prices dropped dramatically in the UK market for freecall. So we recalculated, redesigned, and remarketed a new product called 'SurfSaver'. This involved people paying £39.00 to become not just customers but shareholders in Ezesurf, and, as such, be entitled to totally freecall 24/7 internet access.

According to a lot of people, £39.00 was a very low price; however, by our calculations, this could be justified. Maybe a slight increase would be needed over the years, although it was never anticipated that this would rise above £75.00. With EzeSurf there was no need to change your telephone number, no need to move telecom providers and above all no advertising software.

The service was going very well, and Planet Online (by now renamed as Energis Squared) were providing the customers with a great dial-up service. The problem was their communication (or rather, the lack of it) with us at Ezesurf. In fact, after all was set up and launched, there was no further communication from our so-called account manager at Planet Online (Energis Squared). The Energis account manager was great - he was always there, and would help us quickly and as best he could. In fact, he never got anything for giving Planet Online (Energis Squared) the contract. In contrast, the Planet Online (Energis Squared) account manager got all the credit, but she gave us hardly anything in return. We asked for months for new templates to change the sign-up pages, but to no avail. A Planet Online employee mentioned that there could be the capability for customers to change their cli (caller line identification) online, but when we said to our Planet Online account manager “go ahead and provide this capability”, nothing was done. For this non-management we were charged a project management fee of £1900.00 per month (excl VAT).

Anyway, we have now explained how we got from 08004U to Ezesurf. Sure, it was never perfect, but we managed to keep the company together and planned on expansion.

However, on a more personal note, it was very hard for one man to manage a growing company, and its finances, as well as cope with some members of staff who seemed to feel that school was out and it was permanent playtime. There are lots of rumours going around about Ezesurf staff problems, but in some cases the reality was worse than the rumours. I’m sorry to say it, but as long as a few months ago we noticed many fraudulent Ezesurf freecall accounts being opened up by members of staff under false names, and official letters being opened by members of staff who were not authorised to do so. This may have meant that invoices which needed paying did not arrive. Also, there appear to have been fraudulent attempts to withdraw funds from the business account. No one but the Managing Director has access to the Ezesurf bank account or receives its statements, so if any person knows the balance of the account (as has been claimed by one member of staff) then that information was obtained illegally. In addition to this, as with most companies, all staff signed an employment agreement with a confidentiality clause; this has been habitually breached.

Unfortunately, we had to deduct some extra tax from staff on the advice of the Inland Revenue call centre. But all genuine staff concerns are being sorted, and a tax refund is being issued to those members of staff who are due one. This is something that will be arranged by the next monthly payday.

Ezesurf was intended to last for many years, however we have no alternative but to enter Voluntary Liquidation. We are very sorry to our past and present customers and would like to explain why this has happened.

Since the launch of Ezesurf maintained on the Energis Squared network, we have been maintaining a service for our users. We realised our customer services were never that brilliant, but regret that the staff got away with a lot more from their manager than they should have. In fact, several of them would quite literally sit and play games and not take your calls.

Within the past few weeks we have employed a new customer service manager and re-opened the Dundee office to provide a better customer service. Our intentions were to improve, and to totally focus on serving our customers. It was intended that, once the Dundee customer services office was back up and running, the Dundee based CS manager would work in conjunction with the other manager located in Nottingham, responsible for billing, admin and payroll. The Managing Director was never based in Nottingham.

A new advertising campaign and cd roms were on their way. Little did we realise what was about to happen. Around the sixth of August we started to receive communications from Energis Squared. We were informed by telephone that there has been an error at Energis Squared and that we had not been billed for several services. This being 0808-freecall access.

We were informed that between February and July 2000 we had accumulated over 1.7 million pounds in charges for freecall access. Now, as with any small company, this was a major amount. Every bill we received from Energis Squared was paid. However, with this unexpectedly large bill suddenly sprung on us, we naturally hoped that Energis Squared would give us the standard credit terms. But no ; just a "payable upon receipt" footer on the Invoice. That’s six months of billing all to be paid at once.

Had they given us between 30 and 60 days we could have done something. In fact, what we were going to do was to be honest with the users, explain the current situation, and advise them that in today’s commercial market freecall access is becoming harder to get with a reliable connection. Remember, Ezesurf users hardly ever got an engaged tone; and, if they did, it was usually with their telecom provider that the problem occurred.

Despite rumours to the contrary, all we would need to do to save Ezesurf was for each customer to introduce five friends to Ezesurf, and then each month thereafter introduce another friend. This may sound like pyramid marketing, but really it would guarantee the survival of Ezesurf with many satisfied customers for years to come. We were going to change the services offered, and launch a redesigned service for only £55.00, either per annum or one-off. A monthly equivalent package was also in the pipeline.

Anyway, with our intentions to save Ezesurf, and with a little help from our users, we could have become the largest working 24/7 freecall Internet provider. In some respects, we could say "Ezesurf, the first UK 24/7 freecall provider to get it right". We can say this because a large majority of our customers have offered to pay more to get EzeSurf back up.

For Ezesurf to stay alive we would need at least 55,000 (fifty five thousand) new users. Remember, we actually offer (sorry, offered, past tense) everything that major companies wanted to provide, namely 24/7 freecall access. They get lots of publicity for being about to launch services, which later they say they have launched, and then retract the claim. If we had AltaVista’s mailing list, we really could, within a matter of days, deliver everything they "promised" but failed to deliver.

Despite how things have turned out, despite the fact that Energis Squared gave us little or no time to pay such a large accumulated bill, we are sure that if we were to get the number of users previously mentioned we could be back up and running and be here for many years to come.

All we would like to say is sorry, we tried to stay alive, but never had the time to pay such a big bill, which including VAT totalled £2,083,351.21 . Remember, Ezesurf could re-open within days if every user was to introduce 5 friends to it. We would love to be there for you and provide you with a better service. It would be great for the public to help us as it will prove to the likes of larger companies that smaller companies can compete as well in this world.

So basically, although Planet Online (Energis Squared) had assisted Ezesurf in providing you with a great service, when they (for reasons known only to themselves) allowed only a matter of days to pay their entire bill, or at least a major percentage of it, this led to the demise of Ezesurf.

Another thing we would like to stress is that, even during the last few days of Ezesurf, the staff were unaware of this situation, as we had hoped that Ezesurf, Energis and Energis Squared could come to some working arrangement which would provide a solution. The staff received numerous calls from Ezesurf users who said they were willing to pay more to get the service back up and running. Such loyal support from users, in a very competitive market, shows that we could have made it, had the attempt to reach such a working arrangement been successful.
You may contact Ezesurf in writing marking your letter for the attention of the appropriate department. If you would like to support Ezesurf to re-launch then mark your letter for the "Attn : Revive Ezesurf", for Customer Services "Attn : Customer Services", for Liquidator "Attn: Liquidator", for Support "Attn Support" and for Distributors contact "Attn: Dist Services". The address for all correspondence is - Ezesurf, 11-19 Buchanan Street, DUNDEE. DD4 6SD.
We thank all users, staff and companies which assisted in providing Ezesurf. We would also like to apologise to all staff, users and companies for the closure of Ezesurf. And a big thank you to any reporters that read or publish this letter.

Kind Regards

Matt
PS: This letter has been forwarded to most newspapers and magazines throughout the UK. The heading quoted is "Freecall Internet Providers Can Survive With Or Without FRIACO" if they use the Ezesurf design. Unfortuanately we could not prove it...

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