iiNet broadband gets "bliinkered"

After just three months of offering unlimited off-peak downloads through its bliink Time ADSL service, Western-Australian based broadband provider iiNet has announced it will be capping its users' off-peak download quota.

The new shaping policy, which is effective immediately, will see the ISP cap users' download limits in both on and off-peak times, as well as determine download limits based on a 30-day rolling period, instead of by the calendar month. bliink Time is the term used to describe the ISP's midnight to dawn service.

To compensate for the introduction of off-peak download limits, the capped speed will be increased from 56Kbps to 72Kbps. Download quotas will also be doubled, with the user's on-peak quota being again offered during off-peak time. For example, a user currently on a 6GB per month plan will now be entitled to a maximum of 6GB during peak time as well as an additional 6GB during off-peak time.

Prices for the broadband services will remain unchanged. iiNet managing director Michael Malone says the ISP was forced to bring in the new shaping policy to combat an increasing amount of congestion in off-peak periods due to heavy downloads. The new plans are designed to give all users a "fair go", and ensure network performance levels are not affected, he said.

Customer responses to iiNet's new off-peak shaping policy are mixed. While some say the changes will provide a fairer deal for all users, others are more critical, believing iiNet's change of heart is illustrative of the 'bait and switch' techniques employed by Australian ISPs to lure in new subscribers.

Daniel Mehanna, a recent iiNet subscriber, says he was attracted to the bliink service because it promised unlimited downloads during off-peak periods. With the new capping structure now coming into play, Mehanna says he feels as if he has been cheated.

Mehanna said the ISP has also broken its own terms of agreement by not giving users 21 days warning of their plans to cap off-peak download limits.

"If a consumer breaks a contract there is hell to pay. Surely there must be a penalty [whether it be financial or otherwise] that should be imposed by a regulating authority. Otherwise there is nothing to stop them doing it again," Mehanna said.

Mehanna said he could not fault iiNet's service from the customer service level.

"The quality was good. [There have been} several outages but not a big issue. My qualm is not with the customer service as such," he said.

Commenting on iiNet's changes on the Whirlpool broadband forum, one forum participant, who was adverse to the changes when first suggested by iiNet, said the plans put forward "are a very fair and a reasonable compromise".

Malone said users who are dissatisfied with the new download structure and who opt to cancel their plan by the end of October will be entitled to receive a pro-rata refund of any pre-paid fees.

Despite having only announced the decision to cap download limits this week, Malone said customers have thus far, responded positively with only three customers asking for a refund.

"For most customers, they couldn't care less about midnight to dawn," he said.

"They were concerned about performance though, and the off-peak limits have addressed that. And their quota for the rest of the day has just been doubled. All good."

The most common question being asked by customers is how the 30-day rolling period will work, Malone said.

"It's a pretty simple concept. We just tally up the last thirty days of usage," he said.

"However, people just want to clarify how it will affect them personally."

Since its announcement of the bliink broadband products in June, iiNet has attracted over 3000 new subscribers.iiNet's bliink broadband ADSL service is available in Western Australia, NSW and Victoria, with new services proposed in Queensland later this year.