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There's nothing to see here except for shadows of the past - and these ones won't be returning.

I'd point you to my next project here - but I'm not that organised. My style is to act and then sort out the consequences, rather than the other way around. Oh, and lying. I do that a lot too. (i.e. if you look closely, you may have seen some links appearing roughly once a week) is registered to me for the forseeable future, so you might find something there.

Edited by Vitenka at 2003-04-09 08:22:54

Vitenka : Sun 29 10:54:46 2002
You know those ISPs where you no longer pay by the minute and in fact pay a fixed rate monthly? Boy they suck. Balless soulless suckers of Satans cock each and every one of them.


Thanks to Bill Hicks for the (mis) quote. (TOC is 'Terms of condition, which is me getting confused. "Terms and Conditions" and "Terms of Service" are pretty much the same thing, and I mixed them together)

I think we all know what the problems with UK ISPs are right now, but just in case you're one of the lucky ones let me enlighten you.


Most ISPs fail completely roughly once a month. Usually for a couple of hours -sometimes for days. This is especially irritating since when you were paying by the minute you could just connect to a different ISP - no big deal.

Worse, there is no advance warning - and no explanation afterwards. You are left with the impression that they hope some customers didn't notice, and don't want to let them know how bad things are. Of course, financial renumeration is completely out of the question.

As with many of these problems - ISPs blame their providers (BT, backbones, whoever) and never admit responsibility themselves. When was the last time you heard an ISP say "oops - sorry, we tripped over the power cord. Back up now." hmm?


If you sell me a product I am entitled to use it. If you sell me access at a fixed monthly rate - then the main reason I am buying it is because I want to use more access than I was getting for the same amount of money on a 'per second' plan.

I am buying online access, like most of you, for gaming - which includes large file downloads. I also want to stream out audio 24/7. That is continual uprate. The fact that most of my access is during peak hours is the ISPs problem. It should not be mine. I want 1:1 contention.


BT control what products exist. You can get 'alltime' or 'anytime' or 500s or whatever access products. Every ISP builds EXACTLY the same product on top of these - with perhaps minor variations in special offers (I got a free domain name, which I have yet to claim)

WHY? I am willing to spend, maybe 80 a month on access. No product exists in this price bracket, so I'm SOL. So I pay 40 and 'abuse' it.

Hint guys - I chose you as my provider *because* you offerred me a fixed IP address and 288k uprate. What, you thought I *wasn't* going to run a server? You hoped it wouldn't be popular maybe?

Cable *should* offer another option (if it's available in your area) but they chose the exact same ratios as ADSL, roughly the same contention and price - and both cable operators are going bust.


I haven't had a reply to my question about repeatedly losing connection. ISPs just want to ignore you.

Criminal Intent

Hate to say it, but some (most) ISPs are ought to defraud you. Some start out that way - while others simply get that way once they realise that they can't make money with their current plan.

Know Your Rights

So, here is where you fight back. There are certain things an ISP can and cannot do. If you only use ISPs that live by these rules you have some chance of getting a good one.

Terms And Conditions
An ISP MUST show you its terms and conditions. And if you don't read them - boing though they may be, you are screwed. Some ISPs give themselves the right to monitor your activities online, or even to take ownership of any work you post to their servers. This is a legal thing to do - they trade the service they give you for these rights. There is no way on this earth you want to give them that right. Choose another ISP.
CHANGING the terms and conditions
Legally, the agreement may be changed by either party - but if the other party does not consent then they have the right to back out. Generally you have 28 days (or until your next payment is due, whichever is the longer) from being notified of the changed terms until you either agree to abide by them, or leave. If you leave then they must refund any monies owing. I don't care what their TOCs say - that is their legal obligation. If you are in a 12 month contract and they try to change the number of hours you can use it for each month after three months - then back out and get your nine months back. They MUST refund it, they broke the contract first.

The danger is that you will stay in, and then be thrown off for using it too much. If that happens - tough titties, you got your chance to back out of the new rules, you chose not to, you broke the rules and defaulted on the contract - THEY get your cash.

They must notify you that the TOCs have changed. Posting the change in a public place IS allowed by law -it is usually taken to mean 'at least two of the major national newspapers' - but their TOCs may make it clear that their website is sufficient. If that's what their TOCs say then you might want to consider going somewhere courteous enough to at least email you. After all, the only reason to hide changes to the TOCs is to try and cheat you. But if you do go with such an ISP then check their website weekly.

Data Protection Act
An organisation may only collect personal data sufficient for billing - and throw it away once billing is done. To do anything more (and all ISPs do more) requires you to be registered under the data protection act. The part of these laws you care about is twofold. Firstly - if you are collecting personal data then you must tell people about it, and tell them that you are registered under the act and give information to allow you to identify them. If the ISP does NOT give valid contact details (registered postal address, phone number, registration number) then they are crooks and you should NOT give them your money. Giving a postal box as the only contact address is legal, but pretty suspicious. They MUST also tell you that you will be agreeing to give up this information - if they do not give that warning, again - they are either crooks or incompetent - either way, stay the hell away.

Secondly - an organisation that collects data MUST let you examine it and correct any mistakes. They may charge you up to 10 for the service (to cover postage costs etc.) This has been ruled to include your usage information - how many hours a month you have used the service. You may find it a good idea to use an online timer of some sort - and if they send you snotty mails about abusing the time limits you CAN ask them to prove it. If they do not, they are breaking the law. If they do not have the information then they obviously cannot prove that you were breaking the TOCs and can't throw you off.

False Advertising
Doesn't matter how good their offers sound, look for the weasel words. They only have to stick to the lettter of their advertising, not what it sounds like. And descriptive terms like "Rip roaringly fast" and "stunningly reliable" are totally meaningless here. Only concrete promises like "Stay connected all day every day, for only 25 a month!" are useful. Make sure you get proof that they made that promise before you sign up. Oh, and beware the word 'fast' You are concerned with bandwidth and ping-time - 'fast' is meaningless.
Seek Advice
For crying out loud - NEVER sign up for an ISP unless you have already heard things about it. Preferably from lots of people who say "Never had a problem" and at least a few people who say "Yeah, it broke, but I phoned up and they sorted the problem quickly". Caveat Emptor. Most ISPs will be nice and let you back out quite quickly if you sign up and it turns out to be crap - but they don't have to.
Customer Service
Look for get out terms like "We support windows AND macintosh" - this is NOT a good thing to see. If you delve deeper you will probably find that it ACTUALLY means "We ONLY support windowsXP and System9" - and if you try and use ANYTHING different they will give you no help.

Worse are companies that try to make you use a dialer program. Again, if you don't use that (because, for example, it refuses to install on your machine) then they won't give you any support. You probably won't NEED support, but it's good that it is there. Note - this includes companies that give both a dialer AND normal connection settings, and even companies that gave you the dialup settings as tech support when you asked how to get around their crappy dialler not working.

Oh - AND it includes ADSL/Cable companies that say "We advise usage of blah-blah brand terminal adapter" - use a different one and it will probabvly work, but if it doesn't tough shit. In this case, the advice is to buy that adapter. Yes, it is more expensive - but it is usually worth it.

Share Issue
I don't think any of these still exist - but. There was a rash of ISPs who offerred service if you bought shares from them. The deal was too good to be true. They were total frauds. Offerred actual service for a month, then stopped paying their hosting bills, while still taking customers money. A couple of weeks later the lines went dead as THEY got cut off. They then started up a new company under a different name, and did it again. This is blatant fraud, and totqally criminal. Avoid like the plague (although their service was pretty good for a couple of weeks...)
Too good to be True?
If a deal seems to good to be true, it probably is. You do not need to look deeply into it to try and work out where the catch is. There obviously is one, who cares what? Avoid.
Cash up front
Some companies offer very cheap deals if you pay a long time in advance. This is actually a fairly sane practice (since they make money off of the interest they earn) and they get the added safety of knowing in advance how much they are going to make each month. This can be a win-win deal - but BE CAREFUL. If you have never heard of the company, or it is small -then it could go bust two months down the road. This will leave you with no service, out of pocket AND no chance of getting it back (they have no money, so they can't pay you back)

This isn't even illegal - being bad at running a business isn't a crime. So be careful. NEVER make a deal which will last longer than a company has been in existence. Paying monthly (even with a "you cannot back out of this contract" type clause, which still gets them the guarantee that you'll be around in eight months time) is safer - since you can stop paying them once they go bust.

Another reason to be careful, of course, is that your circumstances can change. In a years time you might have moved house - lost your job - got cable. Heck, they might have invented a whole new type of internet access by then (802.11a lilypads...) So be sensible.

What you Can DO

So, things went wrong. What do you do? Go down this list in order - obviously stop as soon as you are happy.

  1. Find another ISP. You want internet access while you go about all this, right?
  2. Phone the ISP. Explain your problem, ask them what they will do. Write down what they say. Be polite but insistent, when someone says they cannot help you - ask if they wil pass your call to someone who can. If you think what they say is contrary to one of your rights, explain why you think this is so. Get the name of the person who takes your call (or their number if it's a large call center). Make sure that you have a valid postal address for the company.
  3. Write to the ISP. A written letter is far better proof than just your word. Keep copies of everything you send. Ask for a refund. Letters should be typed, and preferably sent from someone else 'on behalf of' - a proper letterhead and you are most of the way to looking like a lawyers letter. You do not NEED a lawyer at this stage, they are just people with training in the law -they have no special powers that you do not.
  4. Ask for all the details they have on you, under the data protection act. As a rule of thumb - get all your facts in place as soon as possible. Either it will strengthen your eventual case, or it might even scare them into complying (after all, you are obviously serious AND know what you are doing.)
  5. Go to your local citizens advice bureau, or other legal advice center. Most highstreets in towns have one - it may be a pay-for soliciter that doubles up. You can usually drop-in, but for specific enquries you may have to make an appointment.
  6. Go to the small claims court. At this stage you will need to do quite a bit of research (to find out the proper forms and such) so it is probably easier to get a lawyer. Your complaint will proably be "False advertising" "Goods not meeting their agreed quality" "Breach of contract" or the data protection thing. Small claims won't make the ISP take you back, but it should make them pay you some money. Small claims covers up to 500, is far faster than a full court and (supposedly) far easier to win. This is because you win by default if the other party doens't turn up - and for 500 most places don't bother.
  7. If the company turns out to have done a runner at this point (like redhotant and the other 'share issue' ISPs did) then you are SOL again. You'll probably never get your money back. But if the people DO end up getting arrested or their assets seized then you will be on record as an outstanding creditor - and you ought to get your share then.
  8. If they still are being arsey - really your only choice is to take them to court. At this point you REALLY need a lawyer - they will be able to tell you what your chances are. Don't go to a 'pay only if you win' one - if you DO win then you end up getting almost nothing, and they are far less likely to be honest about your chances. Getting advice on how to pick a good lawyer (contradiction in terms there) is beyond the scope of this column - but be sensible about it.

The Future is Bleak

ISPs are really just waking up to how dumb they have been. Now is about the last chance you will get to take advantage of a "wonderful" offer. And we can expect to see a few ISPs really pushing their deals as being so much better than their competitors (look! We offer unlimited hours per month, cheaper!) But it's a false hope - those ISPs have to pay exactly the same bills as ISPs that give less and charge more. Guess which ISP will be going bust?

Totally unlimited access IS coming. But more slowly than you might hope.

You might want to look into sharing a T1 line with your street. (Set up cost ~7000 including the wireless kit to share it, monthly cost ~5000 - perfectly reasonable if you can share it between a hundred people. Talk to nildram about it, they are one of the few to actually talk about how much it costs BEFORE you sign up)

Good luck - I hope you don't need it, but you probably do. There is no reaosn to not be educated bewfore you make your choice - and it saves regrets later.

Edited by Vitenka at 2002-09-29 11:15:59

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