Maybe I’ve just been lucky. In general I’ve had no major issues with my broadband providers. BT certainly were poor with support and since joining PlusNet I’ve never had any major issues. Great reliability, consistent speeds, good pricing and importantly a good support service and staff that are willing to talk and share information. Since Jan 2004 it’s been pretty refreshing. I’ve even recommended then and got the referral discounts to prove it. However April this year saw some changes for Plusnet. These have only got worse over the last 6-8 weeks.
Some background – Plusnet operate 3 accounts – Pay As You Go, Plus and Premier. The first two are for average users, not going to download much and hence have traffic shaping applied. This basically means that p2p and Usenet downloading is restricted to fairly low speeds. You knew this when signing up so can’t complain that when sharing or downloading using these two methods that it’s slow. Premier accounts were to be free from shaping. No download limits either.
First issue was back in April when Plusnet cancelled the roll out of it’s fair usage policy. This was the idea that Â£22 a month gave you a 30Gig download limit but at the fastest speed possible from your exchange. Therefore when Max DSL is launched a potential 8Meg speed for Â£22 was being offered. Â£30 got you 80Gig, Â£40 got you 150Gig. Sounded great and for most users made sense. Some of the big downloaders (greater than 100Gig every month) felt this was robbery. However I felt it was fair to pay for your usage of the service as 0.5% of the users were using 20% of the available network bandwidth.
Plusnet removed this scheme before it was launched instead reverting to Â£22 for speeds up to 2 Meg, Â£30 for 4Meg and Â£40 for 8Meg. The problem was they told no-one about it instead putting the details in a forum posting. At this stage (and to this day) 4 & 8Meg wasn’t available. They said people could keep paying this rate and that would get them first on the list when Max DSL is launched. What a con. People to this day are still paying Â£40 not realising they could be getting the same service for Â£22. The reason – nobody from Plusnet has officially told them their account has changed and Plusnet say it is illegal for them to e-mail the users and let them know of the changes. Plusnet also say they can’t move people to the cheaper account as that’s illegal too. Profiteering at it’s most blatent. It’s scary to think how many people are un-aware of this and paying almost double what they should be.
Since then the mis-communication has continued. Around six weeks ago the Plusnet and ADSLGuide forums were awash with premier users saying that p2p speeds had dropped – is there shaping being applied. This was denied for around 10 days before an official (forum) announcement that to protect the service for everyone and not just the nasty few people who download torrents shaping had been applied to the Premier service too. However the impact was alleged to be neglible – around an extra 5 minutes for every hour you download. Fine I thought – no biggie and not much impact. However I couldn’t help feeling slightly peeved that they had changed the terms and conditions of my account again without any prior notice or warning and had done so by using a forum which the majority of users will never visit.
Next came idle timeouts for Pay As You Go and Plus users. If Plusnet detect your connection as being idle for more than 30 minutes they will disconnect you. This helps then reduce network bandwidth and better manage the network. Should have no real impact on end users although some will have to re-boot their modem to get a new connection. WHAT?!?! The whole point of broadband was to provide a fast and always available internet connection, especially if you invest in a router that is likely to be never switched off. While not affecting me I think this is a crazy decision and like the shaping, who know’s if it will apply to Premier accounts one day.
During all this, Plusnet kicked out two users who asked too many questions and also ditched a few ‘bad boys’. These were users who used too much bandwidth over a few months of use. Plusnet repeatedly failed to publish how much is too much saying that there were no caps. After a few weeks a figure of 100Meg was published (in the forums only) and even to this day the forum post is quoted by Plusnet as ‘official guidelines have been published and known by users for months’. That means 6 weeks a go we posted a figure that was lost in amongst 100 other postings that were read by a few thousand users out of our greater than 100,000 userbase.
For me this week has seen a new low. Since Monday any Usenet downloads between 18:00 and early morning are being shaped drastically. A download from a newsgroup started at 17:30 with a speed of 230k/sec. Nice. By 18:10 the speed had dropped to less than 100k/sec. By 19:00 it was hovering around 70k/sec. That’s not a kick in the teeth off a 1/2 Meg account. Plusnet are denying that anything is wrong or has been changed. They say to increase number of connections to the news server – 10 connections took the speed of one user to 110k. At any other time the speed with just 2 connections was 230k/sec – nothing going on? While defending their position Plusnet pointed out some stats that have been published by the people who make their shaping and management hardware/software – Ellacoya. This report highlights the amount of traffic seen in Europe broadband accounts. Nearly 2/3rds of all traffic is p2p file sharing. That’s a lot. Surprisingly Usenet made up 2.3% of the traffic. Yet Plusnet are drastically throttling Usenet access. While I understand Plusnet are a business and have to manage their networks in the most cost effective way possible this seems crazy.
Whether I download 1Gig or 100Gig if it’s during the core usage hours my speed will be throttled. Like the idle disconnects, is this really what a broadband society was to deliver? When I move to a 24Meg ADSL2 service next year, what’s the point if I’m throttled to a 1/2Meg service? Do gooders will point out that all p2p and Usenet is illegal and well done Plusnet for stamping it out. Blizzard deliver weekly patches, sometimes over 50Meg via p2p as do many other game developers. Many download sites now encourage users to use p2p to download demos and trailers as it reduces their bandwidth requirements. Many beta’s are released via p2p and Microsoft are developing their own p2p release mechanism.
The current model really has to change back to the proposed fair usage. Fast speed for all but a capped service unless you want to pay more. So for my Â£22 I get 2Meg ADSL, can download 30Gig a month but after that it’s throttled to a speed that will either encourage me to download at another time, pay more for an increased download limit or put me off altogether. The more I use – the more I pay. If this isn’t adapted then everyone is punished by shaping whether they download 1Gig or 100Gig
Again Plusnet are spreading gossip in forums that these issues will be addressed ‘in the near future’, possibly this week. They’ve also said that those paying Â£30 and Â£40 have increased download limits and that’s always been the case – crap. A forum post two weeks ago confirmed this for the first time even though the pricing structure has been in place since April. My biggest beef is the underhand way in which the terms and conditions are being changed without any pre or post notification. It really is a shocking way for a technology firm to behave especially when they have so many ways of communicating with their user base. If they can’t e-mail users why not flag up the changes when a user logs in to the Plusnet website instead of hiding important updates in various forums.
What grates is that I’ve recommended Plusnet to other people – I wouldn’t at the moment until things settle down. I still rate their support service and from reading elsewhere, Pipex and Demon who are two companies with great reputations are going through troubling times also. I’ll stick with Plusnet for the time being and can only hope the next announcement brings a bit more sense and stability to their offerings – if not it’s time to switch. Maybe all these announcements are Plusnet moving from being a broadband provider to a value broadband provider where those that only use a few gig a month deliver most profit. Time will tell.