The End of HughesNet as we know it, and I feel fine.

I know this is a bit off topic, but my Internet service provider sunk to a new low today, and I can’t just let this one slide.

My Main Complaints (before today)

Look, I understand fully that it costs a bloody fortune to shoot a satellite up into space and I am sharing it with every HughesNet subscriber in the country and that means limits on usage. Further, I understand completely that the horribly latency (600-1100 ms ping times are typical)  is just a limitation on the physics of non-terrestrial broadband access.

I’m not alone in these complaints, there is a pending class-action lawsuit, a legion of unhappy customers, and just Google the phrase “HughesNet FAP” to see the magnitude of anger towards this company. Much of it is centered around the FAP (Fair Access Policy) that makes using the service like having a Ferrari that can drive 220MPH, but if you go more than a 1/2 mile it automatically locks you into first gear. That is, you get pretty good speed, but if you download more than your threshold for the day (200MB for the standard plan, 425MB for the best plan under $100/month) then you are put in penalty mode for 24 hours during which the speed is reduced to about 14Kbps, or slightly less than 1/3 of the speed of a dial-up connection.

My advice to HughesNet

  • Stop lying
    • It is infuriating to see tv ads pitching super fast Internet without a hint that you get spanked if you use that speed for more than 30 consecutive minutes.
    • It is practically fraud that you claim on your Website FAQ that only a small percentage of users ever get FAP’d and normal Internet use won’t trigger it.
  • Help your customers avoid accidentally tripping the FAP
    • There are third-party tools you don’t even mention on your site that can do this, although they are admittedly clunky and inaccurate.
    • Provide some first party tools to track how close a customer is to FAP and alert them when they are getting too close.
    • Don’t be so darn secretive about the formula for how FAP is calculated, the material on your Web-site is incomplete and downright misleading.
    • Only enforce the FAP when the bandwidth of the system is near capacity, have a way for customers to be alerted when usage requires FAP restrictions to be enforced.
  • Reduce the severity of the consequences for FAP
    • Dropping 95% of a customer’s bandwidth to the point where they are paying for a service too slow to even be functional is tantamount to fraud.
    • How about a tiered FAP system where it gradually gets slower as you exceed your bandwidth.
    • The maximum FAP induced throttle should be at a functional level, say 56Kbps, and only for users that are flaunting the bandwidth limitations habitually.

The HughesNet Business Model

Ever notice how shady industries with legendarily bad customer service cling to business models centered on customer lock-in mechanisms like long term contracts, proprietary hardware, or monopolies?  Some good examples of this are example health clubs, cell phone providers, cable, and satellite companies.

HughesNet uses this model to turn their customers into hostages who will continue to renew their subscription despite high prices, unreliable service, inferior technology, and horrible customer service. The only plausible explanation for why Internet Satellite isn’t in a museum next to the Apple Newton exhibit is that they have the rural community by the short-hairs due to their near monopoly on broadband service outside of urban centers. It is clear that they have given up the pretense that anyone would voluntarily pay for this service unless they have no other option beyond dial-up. Just look at the title of their corporate Web-site where they now brand themselves as  “Rural High-Speed Internet Service.”

hughesnet-rural

Live in the sticks? Your stuck with us unless you want dial-up! So F-You!

For customers who have stuck around and taken the abuse long enough to be free of the indentured servitude, they devise clever tricks to lock them intonew contracts instead of encouraging repeat business by providing value or delighting customers. Which brings us to…

The Final Insult

This morning, when browsing the Internet, I started getting the browser pop-up window shown below. Mind you, this is not a pop-up from any web-page that I am visiting. HughesNetis redirecting my browser HTTP requests to their ad site and forcing me to respond to it before I continue surfing. Worse yet, even when I play along and dismiss the prompt with the “Don’t show me this offer again” it still comes up. It is a bit hard to read in the screen-shot, but it also claims it takes 90 minutes before clicking the dismiss will be registered and prevent the ad from continuing to appear. However, it still came up after the 90 minutes had elapsed.

Am I being spammed by my own ISP?!?!?

Am I being spammed by my own ISP?!?!?

What makes their insistence on jamming this offer into my face more infuriating is the fact that I actually attempted last week to purchase this very upgrade only to have their internal bureaucracy frustrate me out of completing the transaction. I called the sales line who had no ability to upgrade my service and gave me the support number, who didn’t know what I was talking about and transferred me to billing. Billing could upgrade my service plan, but not  take an order for the new hardware required to use the new plan, they had to send me back to sales to do that. They had no mechanism set up to allow me to upgrade the service without talking to multiple people who had no authority to talk to each other directly, that is, except for new customers. ARGHHH!

Before you start to sympathize with them based on the premise that a) it is a free modem upgrade; and b) my current modem is “discontinued” you should know that I talked to their tech support just two days ago and confirmed that my existing modem will continue to work for the foreseeable future; and the fine print in the above ad notes that the “free” upgrade requires adding a one year additional commitment with a $300 fee if you terminate early.

So Why the Big Push Now?

I have had a “discontinued” modem for over a year now, so why are they pushing so hard hard recently to get me to upgrade?

The harmless reason, I think, is that the new modems use bandwidth a little more efficiently, so they may be trying to upgrade their capacity by pushing new equipment to their customers. I have no issue with this, it makes good business sense and also benefits me as a customer.

The more important reason, I suspect, has to do with Obama’s Broadband plan that was passed as part of the recent stimulus bill. It includes significant subsidees for companies to extend the reach of broadband into “under-served areas” a.k.a. HughesNet’s monopolized market. This is bad news for HughesNet who is clinging to the rural market like Dom Deloise to a ham sandwich. HughesNet’s response seems to be to use every trick in their arsenal to lock in customers, like myself, who are outside of their contractual commitments before the new competition starts pitching them alternatives that HughesNet can’t compete against.

Hughes has a very legitimate reason to be scared. I’ve noticed a recent flurry of activity from start-up WDSL (Wireless DSL)  providers like these guys, and these guys, and these guys. And these are just the one in the rural areas near Bastrop County in Texas. It’s obvious that most of these providers are running these businesses out of garages and/or pole-barns, but it’s a good start to put an end to Hughesnet. Godspeed!

Important Update: I’m scratching the last reference in this post (WDSL.ORG). This company run by Ted Green has apparently dried up and run off with deposit checks and computing equipment of several of their customers. Through some sleuthing I have discovered that they are defendants in at least 4 pending legal actions. Do not do business with either of these people or their company “Wireless Worlds.” It is possible they simply went out of business, but evidence is mounting that they are running a scam by promising Internet service then absconding with deposit money. I filed a BBB complaint (apparently I wasn’t the only one), but they refused to respond or return the calls of the BBB agent.

HughesNet Update: Breaking news from HughesNet that addresses some of these complaints!