Re: [bitfolk] How much should BitFolk allow you to owe us be…

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Author: Nicholas Hollands
To: users, Andy Smith
Subject: Re: [bitfolk] How much should BitFolk allow you to owe us before we suspend your service?
Extremely ex-customer here, who never unsubbed from the list.

I used to be a 'personal' customer, running a small server for me and a few friends to SSH tunnel out of the office firewall, and do a bit of file storage for pictures on fora and the like.  To unexpectedly receive a bill like that (and you never know if something's going to go viral) would have been the end of me.  From that perspective, I'd say it's certainly in both yours and the customers' interests to have some sort of upper limit - whether in money or data.  Hit that limit, shutters come down until the balance is paid.  The size of the limit would probably be best declared by the customer, and agreed by you, you knowing what sort of sudden expense BitFolk can accept versus potential revenue.

For repeat offenders, the electricity board direct debit solution comes to mind.  If a customer (say) goes into overage three months running, start requesting additional funds up front, possibly as a function of an overage average over a period.  "You've owed us £100 extra each month for the last three - so we want £75 advance (deposit?) for the expected overage for *next* month, to be subtracted off your next bill.  You get a bit of peace of mind, and the customer gets the service they need, or a spot of account credit if they don't use it.

Also, (and this may be moot) alternate lines of communication - You seem to be (and IIRC correctly always were) fairly hands-on.  If something does unexpectedly drop into freefall like that, a phone or skype call (or other 'instant' comms method) may be the quickest way to get someone's attention and resolve the situation.
Just thoughts.  I'll go back to lurking.


Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana

    On Tuesday, 19 June 2018, 16:59:30 GMT+1, Andy Smith <andy@???> wrote:  


Recently we had a rather unfortunate situation where a customer ran
up a very large (4 figure) unexpected overage bill.

The current systems of BitFolk behaved how they are currently meant
to, in that the customer received an email warning and then very
quickly an email notification that limits had been passed and
further data transfer would incur a charge.

In addition to the automated process, on the day where the limits
were exceeded I also opened a support ticket with the customer to
warn them that all further data transfer would incur a charge.

Sadly the customer did not read any of the emails, so the level of
use continued for the remainder of the 30 day period, then at the
end a huge bill was presented.

I am not looking to discuss the way in which the customer here was
in the wrong. The outcome is undesirable to BitFolk because it is
always going to be difficult to get an unexpected overage bill paid
when it's approximately 300 times the size of the regular monthly
charge. Any customer presented with such a bill is likely to be
extremely upset, and we don't want upset customers.

So, how can we improve the process?

The problem with the existing procedure here is that after the
notification of exceeding limits has been sent, there is no
follow-up until the end of the measuring period. In a case such as
this where usage is very high, the data transfer quota can be
exhausted quickly and then you've got several weeks where it can
continue at the same rate, building up a huge overage bill.

In my view what should have happened is that once some level of
outstanding bill was reached without any response by the customer to
say that this was expected and should continue, BitFolk should have
turned off their network to limit further expense. At least until
they respond to discuss what they want to do about it.

Assuming you agree with that, it becomes a question of what that
limit should actually be. I brought this matter up a long time ago
when it was a hypothetical situation and the majority of respondents
at the time were very against the idea of service being interrupted
without an instruction from them to do so.

For the following 10 years we've done things that way and not
interrupted anyone's service purely for transferring more data than
their plan covers, but now that the potential for running up very
large bills has been demonstrated, it is a risk to BitFolk and is
something we have to revisit. So when considering this issue, please
try to consider it not as hypothetical, but as if it were yourself
running up a bill.

Please also bear in mind that because we are talking about what
should happen in the case where there is no communication, whatever
we decide has to be the default for all customers. To deviate from
the default will require a setting being changed in the Panel or a
support ticket ahead of time.

So, at what level of overage would you consider it desirable for
BitFolk to temporarily suspend your network access rather than cost
you more money?

Should the amount actually be zero, i.e. as soon as you go over the
limit (despite warnings etc) your network is suspended until you
acknowledge that you will pay your overage bill?

It may be possible to use traffic shaping to limit the liability.
This is not really an area I want to get into because:

- It would only be one-way: data you send out. We can't necessarily
  control data that is sent *to* you, especially if it is not TCP.

- By interfering with your data flow in my view it makes us *more*
  liable for your behaviour. A customer could always argue that they
  aren't paying their bill because we should have done a *better*
  job of shaping their traffic to prevent/reduce the bill. Fully
  specifying how the shaping would work might help, but people who
  are facing a bill they don't want to pay can always find fault
  with that, and those aren't conversations I particularly want to
  deal with.

Therefore, the only form of traffic shaping that I really want to
consider is the most extreme kind: no traffic is allowed at all!

Something must be put in place to try to avoid this ever happening
again, so I would appreciate your thoughts on how it should work.

Again, rather than just saying it is the customer's fault (no one is
arguing that it is not the customer's responsibility), please try
to imagine yourself in the situation where your VPS is running up an
overage bill and you haven't seen any of the emails or seen the
Cacti graphs etc. It is a risk to BitFolk. What would you want done
about it?

Finally, I should mention that there are currently two customers who
almost every month run up overage bills that are 10 to 20 times
their monthly regular bill. They have done so for a long time; they
have already been advised to commit to more in order to reduce their
bills, but they keep paying the overage bills. So while overage is
quite rare across the customer base, for a few customers it is the
norm. Whatever is decided may involve me forcing those customers to
change the way they do things.


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