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Freeserve ‘right to kick out heavy users’

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Last week's we reported the (Consumer Association's attack on Freeserve for terminating the flat fee accounts of its 700 heaviest users.

This provoked a blizzard of emails - mostly anti-Freeserve. One reader, Ridwan Hughes, has even set up a site for Freeserve abnormal users, hosted at, of all places, the neurotically libel-averse ISP Demon (and here's why).

However there were some pro-Freeserve correspondents, moved to reply to the question raised in our article by abnormal user Andrew Smith:

"How can one per cent of users on a modem-only service harm network performance to such an extent?"

Very simply, Freeserve would be foolish on technical as well as commercial grounds not to have kicked out the abnormal users, they argue. And it's all got to do with contention.

Here are their explanations in full.



From James McPherson

I worked at a U.S. ISP for several years, going from 0 customers in '95 to over 60,000 customers in 2000. Depending on the year, and which product packages we offered, 1% of the customers would monopolize 10-20% of the network.



Until network controls were in place there were a significant number of people sharing usernames & passwords. A small group of offenders would routinely use 30 hours per day by being dialed in at two locations.

The average user is only online about 1.5-2 hours/day. (Easily verified by the typical 100 hour/month limit on the $20/month dial-up account). Freeserve's 17 hour/day users would each count for 10 "normal" users, so again, 1% of the users are monopolizing 10% of the network. Cut that one guy off and you can get 10 normal customers. It should be noted that people using 12+ hours/day are onling 460+ hours/month? Think about it, they are online from the time you get up until the time you finish your evening meal.

As for the other comment of "Even if everyone in that one per cent was online 24 hours a day, sucking up every bit of bandwidth they could get, any half-decent network should still be able to cope." I'd point out that 24 hour/day users would be using 16% of the network.

Can you really imagine any business plan letting 1% of users getting that much for nothing? Imagine an all you can eat buffet restaurant where 1% of the customers are expected to eat 10x the average person's meal. That's not a restaurant long for this world. "One wafer thin mint..."



From Brian Greenaway

Andrew Smith asks the question:

"How can one per cent of users on a modem-only service harm network performance to such an extent? Even if everyone in that one per cent was online 24 hours a day, sucking up every bit of bandwidth they could get, any half-decent network should still be able to cope."

The answer:

In one word, contention. No ISP provides sufficient interconnect bandwidth or modem ports to allow all the users to connect, all of the time (unlike in the US, where they do...), usually they operate at least 20:1 contention, more regularly 40:1. If 1% of the users are connected full time, the hit on the access platforms and interconnects is out of proportion to the 1% figure, equating to 40% at 40:1 and 20% at 20:1 - in fact X% at X:1 contention . (assume 200 users at 40:1 contention - 5 modems supplied, and around 256KB of interconnect. If 1% of users are online full time, that takes out 2 modems, or 40% of the supplied capacity - this is where the problem is.)

It is not physically possible or financially feasible to work at 1:1 contention in the UK telecomms market - we've looked into it here, and there isn't enough physical capacity in the UK phone network to handle all those pesky modems. Thanks, BT!

So there are good technical reasons for Freeserve behaving as they do - but they really should be minimising contention on an unlimited subscriber service, since it's only natural to stay on line for as long as you like if you feel you've already paid for it.



From Julian King

Normally I wouldn't write to defend large institutions, let alone ones associated with Dixon's group, that I loathe with a passion, however since in this case no-one else is likely to...



But (Andrew Smith) asks: "How can one per cent of users on a modem-only service harm network performance to such an extent?

Even if everyone in that one per cent was online 24 hours a day, sucking up every bit of bandwidth they could get, any half-decent network should still be able to cope."

Most companies have a modem ration in the order of 100:1, even if it were 25:1, if 1% of their users are using their connection 24 hours a day then 25% of the ISP's modems are tied up, which only leaves 75% for the remaining users.

I am a believer in umetered internet access, and had NTL world until recently, although I've since moved onto a cable modem. However if someone breaks the T&C of a cheap service then, especially if the company is subsidising this anyway, I cannot see that they have much to complain about if the company says 'enough is enough'...

If the users are not in a position to take advantage of other services like ADSL, then this is hardly the fault of FreeServer, or any other ISP, well apart from BT Internet... ®

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