PlusNet blames BT for poor Net service
And we finally find out what 'unlimited' really means
An intriguing letter by the managing director of ISP PlusNet puts the blame for its poor Internet service squarely at BT's feet.
The letter, written in the first person (complete with typos), and posted into a discussion forum on PlusNet's Web site on Thursday, apologised for the poor service it has offered recently, but said a restriction on the number of ports available of Net access, imposed by BT, was to blame. It also explained away the largest cull of Internet users seen in the UK - 1,100 - as necessary if it was to maintain a decent service for other customers - again thanks to BT restrictions.
"The current situation regarding Surftime capacity is indeed not a good one and we are sorry for the impact this is having on our surftime customer base," Lee Strafford began. PlusNet uses BT's popular Surftime model as a foundation for its own services.
Lee then points out that when the service was initially started, it has unlimited ports to access and so the company had a 1:1 contention ratio - i.e. there was a port available for every user. This meant that everyone got a connection first time, every time. PlusNet customers are now looking at 25:1 ratios.
"At the point of the above announcements being made we were utilising over 3000 ports at peak. Following this announcement the usage dropped to around 2250-2500. By the last week of January our usage was at around 2000-2200 at peak. We then kicked less than 50 customers for outright breaking our Ts & Cs etc and told a further 1050 approx that they were not using the service on a reasonable basis," Lee continues.
Up until this point, you would presume that PlusNet was cutting customers off because it couldn't afford the number of ports they were using - something that it is entirely to blame for, no matter how much BT charges (£40 + VAT a port). However, Mr Strafford then goes on to say: "Moving into Feb - BT implemented the 1000 port limit but unfortunately broke the Static IP part of the service."
So it's BT's fault? "Due to the service issues of last year we chose not to impose our Ts & Cs or contention ratios relating to connectivity. This was done through and until the end of Jan this year. During the early part of January, we confirmed to BT that we were not happy that the service was operating as designed. We followed this up by announcing this to all customers and also confirming that we would now be enforcing our Ts & Cs etc."
PlusNet has put itself in an impossible situation here. Clearly, BT is up to its old tricks - keeping people dependent on it and playing good cop/bad cop to keep them on their toes. PlusNet has had to sacrifice 10 per cent of its customers thanks to BT's actions, but then without BT it wouldn't have any customers. This is a ridiculous position for both ISPs and customers. It has also caused Lee to have to make such ridiculous statements as "we do have enough capacity if customers behave reasonably and use the service as designed." Such rhetoric is likely to fall on deaf ears - largely because PlusNet customers would have left primary school at least 20 years ago.
You don't have to go very far either to see what current customers think of Mr Strafford's explanation. The posting is replied to by many of them. One starts: "Dear Trading Standards, When you have finished kicking RedHotAnt's @!#$, please take a visit to PlusNet. They truly are a bunch of incompetent, technophobic old fools!"
Customers that still wish to "abuse" the service are advised to sign up for the ADSL service. But considering the threat of legal action against BT from Freeserve and AOL, it would seem that the Great Satan of Phonelines is never far away, trying to ruin the online party.
Why is the industry for Internet access still in such a mess after all this time?
One reason of course is that peculiar word "unlimited" (a close relation to the equally aloof "unmetered") that has forever changed in meaning. We were delighted however to finally find out what unlimited means. Lee writes: "We have never at any stage offer an 'unlimited' Internet access service. The only aspect of Surftime connectivity which we have advertised as 'unlimited' was the BT part of the service (unlimited calls)." So basically you can call up to get an engaged line as many times as you want - absolutely free! Ain't that great? ®