Sunday, 3 September 2017

Thanks for the comments

Thank you all for your feedback - the tariff post is the most commented I have had, I think. So to save you reading all of the comments, here is a summary. It has been very interesting.

Tariff changes

Firstly I can announce we have today changed the sub terabyte Home::1 and SoHo::1 quotas, increasing by 50GB/month for the same price. I have also added to September's quota for existing customers.

However, there are a number of good ideas that have been put forward, and we expect to announce some more interesting changes in October. Some suggestions we can't do, but some we can. The feedback has been useful.

Waste

There has been some very interesting discussion on the matter of playing fair and waste in the tariff post and my subsequent post on water metering. This was all sparked off by someone that apparently felt he should deliberately download any renaming unused quota at the end of the month even if he had no need to - because he has paid for it. This was a surprise to me, and people seem a little divided on this point, which is interesting in itself - thank you.

Regardless of pricing, allowances, metered to unmetered, etc, the fact remains that the Internet is a shared resource, and much like gas, electric, and water, things really only work if people make reasonable use of that shared resource. In practice many services create a financial incentive not to waste the resource and for some there are legal requirements not to (e.g. water).

With all of these things your own usage impacts others. On that basis alone it is morally wrong to "waste" the resource. The impact is different for different things - in effect water is unlimited (in UK anyway) as it simply recycles in the weather (simple view, I know) but the infrastructure has limits and so do reservoirs. The Internet is a bit like that - there are an unlimited number of bits but the infrastructure is not able to meet the maximum demand everyone could make. It would be impractical and uneconomical to make such a system. So wasting bandwidth has an impact - either causing immediate slow down of other people's service because of congestion, or causing infrastructure to be upgraded increasing costs directly or indirectly for services.

This is not just about ISPs, and pipes - looks at someone like Netflix. They charge a fee, so more customers means more money to pay for more infrastructure - good. But they too have a model of expected usage and if every existing customer started streaming 4k on four TVs at once, 24 hours a day then they would not have the capacity. They would have much higher costs per customer to meet that demand and so would probably have to charge more.

One person makes no difference

One of the issues with a moral problem like this is that a single person not playing fair does not cause a problem. There is capacity to handle one person being selfish and deliberately wasting resources.

The issue is when lots of individuals think like that, that "one person makes no difference". Then it all starts to fall apart. It is a bit like littering - one empty can thrown out of a car window is not a big issue, but everyone doing it makes it a big issue.

This is why we have to self impose some restrictions in some cases for good moral reasons as part of a society. I know it is easy to be selfish, and I can be as well sometimes.

But I paid for 1TB!

This is where it gets more interesting, and where I have seen some interesting comments from people.

Yes, I agree, and fully understand that, if I pay for X then I should get X. Someone suggested ordering 1000l of bottled water from Tesco and expecting to get them even if I just use them to wash the car because they are sat there...

The problem is that I never saw the 1TB allowance as "selling 1TB". Sorry. I understand that is how people see it. But when we set that limit we were thinking: "what is the most a typical, or even heavy, user would use, let's set a limit well above that so people can buy a fixed price service that they don't have to worry about hitting a limit".

The reason for a limit is that there are a tiny number of people that, if unlimited, would do the 25TB a month they can on a fast FTTC line, and we basically want to discourage those people - they are not the sort of customers we are after.

Just to be clear, we do expect heavy users, and we know that we are the highest per user peak bandwidth on one of the major back-haul carriers - we know we have heavy users and that in itself is not the problem. We also know overall usage is increasing as more people stream TV. But, there is heavy and there is silly at a hundred times that level!

Usage does change over time, and the fact we are seeing a few people hitting 1TB makes me think we may want to make it higher, e.g 2TB, or 5TB, or something. We will be discussing this as part of our tariff review.

However, I am now in a slight dilemma in that people may then think "I have paid for 5TB, I will damn well find a way to use or rather than not get what I paid for".

I need a way to explain that the high limit we set is not a target. I do not want to go down the "unlimited*" route where 5TB is a "fair usage" limit - I want to be more up front than that.

So, we will think of ways to tackle this as part of our tariff review.

Thank you all for your comments.

27 comments:

  1. How hard would it be to plot a distribution curve of monthly usage so people can see roughly which percentile they are?

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  2. I would like to see the option to buy a "top-up" on the TB tariffs if it's an unusually heavy month.

    Is there anyway you can do "Unlimited" but after X TB you get thrown into a low priority queue? (Maybe with the first 3Mbit or so as normal priority so web pages load ok.etc).

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  3. One way to reduce this issue would be to let people set their own inclusive caps - buy any amount of 'provisioned' or 'reserved' data they want at a fixed rate. You can still capacity plan, and anyone consistently using less than the cap would have incentive to reduce their cap, rather than wasting the excess.

    Presumably you'd need to increase the marginal cost per unit, since you expect people to utilise a higher proportion of their assigned cap.

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  4. I like the idea of non-time-expirying top ups: yes, we have 2Tb of transfer, but we don't have to use it anytime soon and if we keep within the 500Gb package it'll be there when we need it: plus we don't have to worry about going slightly over the 500Gb.

    An extra 5% increase in the size of the "top up tank" and that much extra added per month the tank stays above 50% capacity will also encourage people not to splurge thru it.

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  5. Firstly I'd like to thank you, for the increase in tariffs which happened overnight. Also for the clear and transparent way in which you sought comments and are responding to them.

    I feel part of the area where there seem to be issues is that the expression of what is intended, although clear is not reflecting your exact intent. For example, the naming of the tariffs is plain "250GB" when the real meaning is "up to 250GB". Your problem with the water analogy stems from this I feel. You want customers to clearly understand what they get, and that is very laudable and valuable to us, but in fact your drivers also have to reflect your input costs and your limited scale (no insult intended) and this means you have to be very careful.

    When I was purchasing services in telecoms for a living it was interesting to see the differences in the offerings. The large vendors (unless constrained by legislation0 would simply lower their quotes to match what they thought the network topology you requested would be worth to you. This model leads to a "race to the bottom", so you are quite right to think it is not for you or your customers.

    Please continue to work for the right balance of quality and cost. Unless you are thinking of realising your investment in A&A and selling, you can and should pursue your current thinking. I simply suggest thinking a little more about how you express that to the rest of the world!

    Thanks again!

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  6. One idea that could serve to discourage people is above say 2TB of transfer the line could become burstable rather than flat line rate. You could choose the minimum level to be say 5mbps which should be sufficient for most users and set the minimum burst time to be say 1 hour.

    I think as long as this process was both well documented and indicated on control and only applied above a large usage(>2TB) so that people do not feel cheated by you introducing what could be seen as a fair use policy.

    Alternatively you could have this as a mode that is enabled if you are getting to the limit of some infrastructure, eg you have a committed 1TB window which is at full line rate and above 1TB upto whatever limit you select the line become burstable at A&A discretion to handle infrastructure load.

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  7. While I have never increased downloads at the end of the month because I felt that I had to use quota I have "paid for" but not used, when I was on the 350GB tariff I *have* delayed large downloads to the end of the month to ensure that I had enough quota left - the effect is similar, of course.

    One thing you could do to avoid _everyone_ maxing out their lines at the end of the month would be to move towards billing cycles which are based on the day of the month that the account was opened - that would spread the load even if there are a few users who try to get every last drop. Business users will probably want to stick with end-of-month billing but I don't see why residential customers need that.

    Frankly, though, if I pay for SoHo::1 2TB, which I do and it can hardly be described as a cheap option, I expect to be able to stream 6Mb/s video 24/7 without being told I am being antisocial.

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  8. Sell your 1TB service as a 3mbit unlimited connection burstable to line speed for the first 1TB of data transfer per month, at which point it falls back to 3mbit. Hey presto, unlimited service with a sensible cap for most users and those who do abuse it will enjoy a 3mbit connection for the month (I realise this would allow people to use far more than 1TB, but could prevent people wasting their "allowance" as it is no longer a finite limit). Obviously you'd need to word it so the ASA/OFCOM don't moan

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    1. Clever idea IMHO. It would limit the line to 2 TB per month. Similarly a 2 TB service as 6mbit with a maximum of 4 TB per month.

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  9. I hope that my comments regarding topups and the very real occasional end-of-month problem have not been lumped in with the person who said they want to use up everything they pay for? That's definitely NOT my desire. I can't fathom why someone would want to run the tank dry every month "just because".

    I just want a way to bank a few gigs that would otherwise go unused, for those occasional times when a few gigs are needed to cover a few days at the end of the month. Or, if paying for those few gigs, to be able to get more value from the 50GB purchased before it too expires mostly unused a month later.

    I hope as you think about the suggestions you try and find a way to make things fairer for customers who, now and again, find themselves in that situation.

    (To be clear, any customers who are always finding themselves in this situation need to move to a higher tarrif which properly covers their typical usage)

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    1. ...or perhaps to be able to top up in smaller quantities than 50GB, e.g. 10GB?

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    2. I'd prefer not that as the primary problem remains unresolved.

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  10. If the limit was increased to something like 2tb to 5tb, that is unlimited for most intents and purposes. Other options could be a min speed of 10mbps which matches the proposed USO, and unthrottled downloads out of hours between midnight and 8am or whatever. If necessary put these customers in the low priority queue behind everyone else.

    Increasing the data allowance, allowing a faster speed when throttled, and allowing use when the network is not contended would win you my business when I'm in a position to do so. Providing by then higher bandwidth packages are available as gfast etc gets rolled out.

    You could also market the above as unlimited with x premium usage. Much easier to explain to people rather than competing with unlimited packages.

    More data allowance makes sense as data usage keeps going up across the board.

    A faster speed makes it more usable if you do exceed it. I would say 3mbps does not cut it.

    Free out of hours usage encourages usage at these times. Also means if you exceed you can get a good service at this time if needed.

    And averaging usage out over x months means you get a fairer reflection on what people are doing to the network and stops last minute downloading to make use of it.

    You rely on better service as a USP but your current network management strategy undermines this as I could end up with a worse service for more money. No customer accepts that.

    The thing is, I probably would use less than 1tb and a lot of my usage is out of hours. I am prepared to pay for better quality, lower latency and so on. You haven't convinced me to use your services because I was already sold at better quality, you've convinced me not to use you. I wonder how many more are in the same boat. How many are fed up with BT and Virgin but feel threatened into not using you because of a perceived risk their service will be worse or they can't use it when they want. Having a service there just in case is a big thing.

    Put it this way, I could probably get people to pay more to use your services. But I doubt they'd give up 'unlimited' even with no real need. Because they may need it.

    I also think in this day you need proper 24/7 support for internet as it is vital.

    End rambling.

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    1. I wonder if people who need it would be prepared to pay extra for 24/7 support? (Many people don't. In some cases such a promise would only be partially effective as sometimes nothing can be resolved rather later, not until AA can get BT to dispatch engineers, which probably isn't available 24/7?)

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    2. I deal with the carriers daily (including BT Wholesale) in addition to configuring and troubleshooting customer networks, so I can definitely comment. With rare exceptions they will not drop everything to fix a DSL line (9-5, 5 working day fix SLA), but some faults are relatively easy and can get fixed quickly despite this, e.g. a (partially) failed piece of equipment at the exchange. They progress faults round the clock and Openreach will dispatch engineers at say 3AM in the morning, though they typically have less engineers on shift at this point and may need to draft in other engineers from out of the area.

      It's a similar story with Colt, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, Vodafone, Level3, and so on. Tangent: despite their many faults, Virgin Media offer fantastic business support, and their 1st line staff actually provide useful info. It's also possible to pay for expedited fault repairs on DSLs with BTW, though in most cases the customer probably won't want to pay for it. Ethernet is treated at high priority no matter when the fault occurs, and all the carriers I deal with offer a 5 hour SLA for most fixes, unless you get something like a fibre break.

      I also think it's a statement of intent as a business, showing you take it seriously. I'm not suggesting A&A have a fully manned NOC at 2AM Sunday morning, but a skeleton crew to pick up things that do occur would be welcome if I was a customer. And they do occur, believe me. The carriers can't pick everything up on monitoring in the same way we can't (and A&A can't). Though looking at the company accounts, maybe this isn't viable (I honestly expected the company to be bigger), without a large increase in business or fees. Do businesses go elsewhere because of this? I've no idea.

      You are right when you say sometimes nothing can be done later (usually waiting for more information from the customer), but equally quite often something CAN be done. For instance, several weeks ago I had a fault where the customer's circuit was flapping for very brief periods. The customer themselves had not reported any issues, but this is a fibre product so that shouldn't happen at all. Card at the exchange is reset, issue resolved at 4AM at the weekend without the customer needing to lift a finger. They come back in 9AM Monday and have no issues. Without proactive action at the weekend and attention to detail, this could have degenerated into a full on outage for the customer.

      And if anyone's wondering, my company doesn't sell to residential users, and Ethernet is crazy expensive (and while we aim to offer a very good service, there's not quite the same commitment to not being the bottleneck offered by A&A). Though it would be quite funny, having to troubleshoot and fix my own connection in a business capacity. I certainly wouldn't be using Virgin Media if I had a choice, given the awful firmware bug. If only the developer had gone with FTTP from Openreach instead.

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    3. We have staff that are on-call over night for emergencies and a way for customers to alert staff over night for a major outage, and lots of monitoring, some of which is way better than BT's. It is the normal fault desk that deals with normal line faults that only works 9-6 Mon-Fri and on Saturday morning, and for that good reason that it really does not help for such normal line faults.

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  11. Just wanted to say thanks for the open way you have asked about your product changes - can't for the life of me think of any other company that consults customers quite like this for improvements to service. Overnight I have 50gb more dl questions quota, on a Sunday as well.
    Great stuff thanks.

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  12. It's been interesting reading the debate on the "I've paid for 1 TB". I hope the majority of A&A's customers are smart enough to realise that we are all using a shared resource and the only reason we have a great connection is because we use it responsibly. From what I've read in the past, if every user wanted to run their line flat out all the time then we'd all have to pay a lot more for our internet connection. A&A aims to not be the bottleneck, however I don't believe this means that A&A has the capacity for every user to run there line at capacity. What I understand it to mean is that for the expected usage profile of the entire customer base, there is enough capacity and some headroom to spare. The result of this is we get internet access at a reasonable cost in comparison to a dedicated leased line.

    Those users who want to run their line flat out should get a leased line with dedicated bandwidth to support that. However I bet not a single one of them would be willing to pay the hundreds of pounds a month for that. No, they expect a load of low usage users to subsidise them, which is pretty much what happens with the larger ISPs and why they can "cope" with offering "unlimited" packages. Quick frankly I hope that type of user stays well away from A&A!

    Now in relation to monthly allowances, I'm unsure if RevK has made an error in how the 1TB is being marketed. For the the lower packages 200/300/400 GB, I'd hope the expectation would be that the customer would be using close to that allowance. For example if you pay for 300 GB, as a user you'd hope to use at least 66% of it, otherwise you'd be better off on the 200 GB option at a lower cost. Similarly for the 400 GB one, you'd hope to be using at least 75% of it. Based on that I hope the capacity planning in A&A would account for at least 75% usage of users on those allowances. Now my question to RevK would be, do you expect on average that your 1TB users would use less than 75% of it? If you do, then I can see why there seems to be a misunderstanding. As that would mean to make the 1TB package viable for you, you expect a percentage of users to pay for the 1TB allowance but not actually use it.

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  13. The problem is that it is £60 for 1000GB. If it were something like £60 with £0.50 per 100GB unused usage credited against the following months bill people would think about it differently.

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  14. Hear, hear. This reminds me of the days of Richard Clayton and team on demon.ip.support.turnpike and similar usenet newsgroups.

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  15. I don't think the water or any physical analogy is a good one for internet usage. If I run my line flat out I haven't actually 'used' anything tangible. Nothing has physically moved from the internet to me so there are no physical resources going to waste. I don't even think the intermediate bits of equipment work any harder in this case.

    I do understand that at the pointy end A&A potentially do need to provide something tangible in the form of additional interconnects and that's probably what riles RevK in his quest not to be the bottleneck.

    I was one of those who admitted to speeding up usage at the end of the month. There is probably an element of getting my money's worth in that but mostly its about delaying low priority activities (game and app downloads mainly) to a time when I know they're not going to end up costing me a variable amount (by forcing me to pay for a topup).

    An easy solution to this would be to make off-peak downloads count less towards the allowance just as with the unit based tariff. Its a lot easier to educate the kids to do the stupidly big downloads overnight than it is to educate then to stop before we run out (because they have no concept of when we are about to run out).

    Btw, thanks for the 400G, must be psychological but it seems like a whole lot more that 350...

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  16. Another possible solution is rate adaptive speed limiting based on usage at any particular point through the month. Basically, the more you download, the slower your downloads become.

    For example, as of writing, I've downloaded 33GB @ day 5 of the month. I therefore know my "rate", and can predict that I will use approx 205GB for the entire month. So, if these figures were different, and I was predicted to be using 1300GB for the entire month (equating to around 200GB already done by the 5th), that's 300GB over 1TB so you cap the line speed so that that it would be impossible to exceed that "predicted" 1TB limit.

    This protects your network from abuse and also starts to annoy end users when they realise that they are saturating a artificially slowed link which will affect any other "genuine" activities they might want to do on the link (like Netflix etc) rather than having them mindlessly abuse it by running 1000 simultaneous 1GB downloads just to use up their 1TB quota.

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    1. We've done this artificial limiting in a Draytek router for a client who was concerned about exceeding a usage limit. We monitored usage of the A&A line weekly and each Sunday night we adjusted the rate-cap on the WAN port so that it would be impossible to exceed the A&A bandwidth usage limit by month-end. As the month wore on we often increased (i.e. relaxed) the rate-cap as usage had been lower than expected.

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  17. I expect that one guy is a tiny majority, there will always be some idiots, I guess even in the AAISP customer base, even with a usage quota, the system is contended and obviously only works at a specific pricepoint on the basis that many people do not fully utilise their connection 24/7.

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