Rants & Essays

IDT's Dynamic Policies

By Marcus Pan

IDT No WayI've been a customer of IDT for years now. Ever since I've been wired to the net, I've been wired through them. And since then I've watched some things go uphill, some things go downhill. To keep this article on a more objective side, I'll discuss the few (very few) good things about them first. Then I'll tell you about the lots (very lots) of bad things.

What Support?

When IDT first started out, they were pretty small. They opened their IOS (Internet Online Services) division and promptly found themselves in the center of all the "information superhighway" hype. This led to a rapid growth in their customer base and, eventually, their customers grew more than they could. Users (such as myself) cited busy signals, disconnections and a generally overloaded and unhappy network. Attempts to reach any form of support, whether it be a technical or service issue, was met with a slew of recorded messages and annoying prompts. However, that changed about 9-12 months ago when IDT went hire-happy and, according to internal sources, "cleaned house." This resulted in an increased network capacity (or so it seems). Today, I no longer have many connection problems, and busy signals are rare. Every now and then I get a modem on the line that doesn't like me and have to redial, but that's expected. No complaints here. Occasionally the news server or my mail server will burp a lung, but again that's expected. Not a big deal in the long run. IDT usually gets these problems fixed rather quickly and within a few hours in most instances. Support was doing well, too. You might even speak to a real live person…up until about 3 months ago when support abilities suddenly took another nose dive into the ditch. I have a friend who isn't able to contact them regardless of her problem…this includes Customer Service and Technical Support. As far as I know, she still hasn't been able to use her account yet, at least not properly. Support? None. If you'd like to see the letter she wrote to them, click here.

Support disappeared. I can name the individuals that were helpful to me if I had a problem on one hand. How did I get support? Simple. One good thing IDT did recently was to add an IRC channel on EFNet. Called #IDTSUPPORT, you can go in there most any time of the day or night for help. Because I wasn't having any fatal problems (along the lines of, "Hey, guys, Tribeca's blowing chunks again…go kick it.") and was still able to jack in, I was able to join this channel for help. Only there did I find anyone who had the ability, capacity or intelligence to help me in any way. I'm not going to mention names, but they know who they are. I guess I was lucky…able to jack in and all. What if you weren't able to jack in, which means you couldn't log into their support channel? You call and listen to the annoying prompts, of course! What happened to IDT's support, I don't know. But up until 3 months ago, they were ok. They weren't great, but they were what you would expect in this industry. Then they disappeared (kind of like my M.I.S. department when my office network goes down).

Now for the Bad

Well, now I've finished up what was good about IDT; up until 3 months ago, acceptable support (suddenly poofed away recently) and fairly (typically) reliable connections and dial-ups. They're also pretty fast, by the way. But what about their services? Ok, they got (some of) the basics down; connection abilities and speed. What about all the things you're supposed to get with your account? Things like electronic mailing ability, World Wide Web space, etc. Hmm. I think it's time for the bad things. Hope this don't take too long…

Policy Musical Chairs

Recently, they've been swapping policies around like most people change underwear (notice I said most people…I've met some nasty folks in my day). I'm paying IDT monthly, automatically through my credit card, for a business type of Internet account (not surprisingly, they have more than enough staff to remember to hit the credit card on time). Correct me if I'm wrong, but businesses use electronic mail, right? Considering my current status as the non-profit proprietorship known as Inferno Publishing with the chair held exclusively by me, Marcus Pan, I qualify as a type of business or organization. With that in mind, I opted for the premium business account when I signed onto IDT, expecting to receive priority treatment (which isn't there…all my treatment was a result of developing personal relationships with support staff in #IDTSUPPORT), more web space, bandwidth and a pretty large electronic mailbox for business purposes. Ok, I got the latter. I do have a pretty large electronic mailbox. Sure, I can wreck my mailbox with a 5MB file…it's just too damn big. But that's easily rectified by Telnetting in and using Pine to extract the file and then delete the letter. Not a problem. I got the second one too, as 8MB (or whatever it is…my web site's been off IDT for months now) is pretty large when compared to other ISPs. We'll talk about the bandwidth a little later. Also, the priority treatment isn't there. All their priority staff is busy hitting credit cards.

E-Mail Limitations

Suddenly I find that electronic mail has a new limitation. Not a maximum on size, mind you, they can't change that (it's in the contract). But now I can't mail more than twenty people at a time. If you're familiar with my Mailing List, you understand how much of a problem this can be. I see their side. They want to put a lid on spammers. Hey, go for it, great idea. But here's the difference. Everyone I mail out a pack to has specifically stated they want to receive this pack. I don't go around mailing a bunch of things to people I don't know, therefore I am not a spammer. I hate spammers. As a matter of fact, I've blown some repeat offenders right off their server with a wonderful assortment of mail bombs, but that's another story. Why do I have to deal with this 20-limit constraint when I've never been accused of spamming, I've never even done any type of mass-mail marketing scheme and all my subscribers legitimately subscribed? I see this as a Communistic viewpoint…punish all for one man's deed. I believe they should give 20-maximum limits only to those people who have been found as performing these direct-mail schemes, or only to new users. Not someone who's been with them since they were nothing more than Internet spittle. I have a spam-less track record that spans multiple years. Why, all of a sudden, am I limited? Now I've solved this issue on its own right, on my own time, and in my own way that doesn't involve IDT. But that's not the point. The point is I found myself suddenly unable to perform duties I could less than three or four months ago. Whatever happened and whoever performed any offenses should have been the targets for electronic mail lock downs…not I. And not a whole lot of you out there. But wait, it get's better! I wasn't even notified of this change…it just appeared happened.

Beefy Views on E-Mail

There is one person I spoke with in #IDTSUPPORT that I'd like to mention. I've had numerous conversations with him in the channel and discussed this electronic mail lock-down and IDT's sudden game of Policy Musical Chairs. He's a funny little guy, some network admin there who calls himself Beef. He's there most of the time, a quiet hulking background ornament. But I sure got him going one night. It seems that not only does IDT suppress their customers when they need to send mail with a large amount of addressees, but Mr. Beefy claims that "using another type of service to do so is in violation of IDT policy and can result in termination." Oh yeah? First of all, it has nothing to do with IDT. My using alternate services or servers to perform my mailing list duties should have no bearing on them whatsoever. And another thing. If they so much as attempt to close my account because I am using an alternate server to perform my subscribed to mailing list, IDT will find themselves in a heap of trouble concerning this situation. My usage of another server can not be construed as violating policies on their server, nor was I ever notified of this information until my discussion with Beefy-Boy. If a policy like this is suddenly implemented, all customers have a right to know this information and be notified either before or immediately following the change. Otherwise, it's a violation of my current service contract. And as I said, I was never notified. Oh, and by the way, if you don't follow Beef's point of view to the letter, he has a tendency to ban you from the channel. That's a lack of support in its own right. I stopped into another channel where he was to continue the discussion, but when he saw me join he ran away. I had sudden visions of the Hefty trash bag commercial that uses the "Wimpy, wimpy wimpy…" song dancing through my head at this point. So, if you want to be an IDT customer make sure you talk to Beef and follow all his view points. Otherwise you could be banned from service and support.

Bandwidth Limitations

Ok, here's another problem. It concerns the web space IDT gives their customers. Granted, they give you quite a bit (8MB or something). But what they neglect to tell you (oh, wow, hidden rules too) is that the bandwidth is limited. What does that mean? Well, it means that if too many people visit your page, you're in violation of IDT policy (there's so many things you can do to violate these people). First I'd like to know how I'm supposed to control how many people visit my page. Especially considering that, if you remember, I have a business account and all the hits I can get is good advertising for my organization (the fact that it's non-profit has no bearing here). Therefore, I want a lot of people to visit me, so there's no way in Hell I'm going to try and control these visits…keep 'em coming! But alas, it's against policy. When the Pan Pages topped out between 30%-40% of the requests Tribeca received, they got a little on the upset side. I was told I had to either "redesign my page" so not as much data needed to be transferred (uh…no), or speak with their Web-Hosting service division to discuss movement to their server. Ok, so I bit that. I called. Turns out it costs around $200 to set up, another hundred or so a month and then there's more charges for bandwidth and data transferred. Hmm. Didn't we say Inferno was non-profit? Let's break it down for you. Why the hell should I now have to be charged more for a web site that I was under the impression was part of my original business account? Ok, it's broken. Let's continue, shall we?

The Hack Story

A lot of you heard allusions about this little story…bits and pieces here and there. Well, finally, I'm going to tell you exactly what happened and what I did about it. Sure, I wasn't exactly kosher about it, but neither were they in my opinion and I come from the school of "fight fire with fire." So I flamed back in their direction. It was actually quite fun.

Ok, let's start at the beginning. I did receive a letter from IDT explaining that I was over their "bandwidth allowance," as stated above. However, I want to make a note that I did not receive this letter until twelve hours after they took it upon themselves to shut down my web site. That's just simply bad business. Sure, go in and close down company web sites and then tell them why a day or so later. Unfortunately for the folk at IDT, it didn't quite work for me. I got upset. No, that's too weak. I got downright freaking pissed. So I retaliated. At the time of my initial retaliation, I had not received their letter yet. So, I went into my shell account and did a little, uh, work, and the web site was back up. Hours later I received the letter. So I fired back a nasty one in return. Of course, I forgot to mention that the Pan Pages were up and functional. And considering that all their priority staff is in the credit department, they didn't notice it until a day or so later. By that time I had nailed the deal down with ZenWeb and was preparing for the move, which was accomplished fairly quickly. So when they shut down the site again it was too late. Maybe they should put some of those priority staff members in the administration department, eh? Needless to say they were pretty damn pissed at my sneaking the site back up. But after a short conversation (on #IDTSUPPORT of course), I was able to put up the moved page on Tribeca so that my return readers could find me. Most of the discussion surrounded policy crap, and I guess they realized I could be even more angry and evil than I already was and let me put up the measly page (which, by the way, hasn't violated their policy yet).

The key relevant item here is the fact that I was not notified of any bandwidth limitations when I signed up. I was given web space under the impression that I could do with it as I pleased and that's that. But as it turns out, IDT couldn't handle it. When I asked how was I supposed to know what kind of hits I was getting considering they provide no form of tracking on business sites, I was told to refer to a URL which, again, I had no prior knowledge of. This URL showed me that 30%-40% ratio I referred to earlier. Again, I solved this on my time, without their help and had to make up for their inconveniences and inability to support their original claims nor my original contract.

Why Do I Stay On IDT Then?

A lot of you are probably wondering that if I have so many problems, why bother continuing to use IDT as my provider? A couple of reasons contribute to my sticking around IDT. First and foremost is because I want to keep track of their actions so I can continue to warn others. Basically, I want to be a thorn in their side. I want everyone to know how they treat their customers, their newest policy changes, limitations, etc. so that everyone is forewarned about it before they become a customer of theirs. I wasn't told about any of this until it happened, as you've read. So why should everyone else go through that? Might as well warn people considering I'm such a nice guy. The second reason is convenience. Their dial-ups are local to me, I'm used to it and I don't want to change my e-mail address if I can avoid it. Their connection rates are fine. Everything else sucks, but considering I had to go out and find a new place to put my web sites, send out my mailing lists, etc. then all I need from these deadbeats is my connection anyway. So I might as well use the connection since it works well and not have to change addresses.

I Think That's It

That should do it for now, kiddies. Everyone be sure to stop into #IDTSUPPORT on EFNet and tell Beef "Pan says hi!" He'll love you for it…TRUST me [giggle]! I will be sure to keep you all apprised of any new developments concerning their treatment of me.

So, in conclusion...this is for IDT!
F You