Exclusive: Poor service leaves ISP customers Screaming

Lack of insight overloaded free ISP

Screaming.net, has admitted to ZDNet News it is guilty of sub-standard service and billing inaccuracies ahead of a BBC Watchdog exposure Thursday evening.

Poor service, inaccurate billing, bills from both BT and screaming.net and an inability to get online are just some of the problems customers have experienced since the ISP launched in May.Complaints from customers prompted the BBC consumer investigation team Watchdog to haul the service over the coals.

"We accept we have made mistakes with billing and the service at the beginning was poor," says a spokesman for screaming.net. The spokesman said it had struggled to keep up with extraordinary demand, particularly when the service was first launched. "We were running to keep up with demand," he said.

One of the major problems cited by the spokesman was the way people spread the Screaming.net discs. People could not log onto the service without the CD and Screaming.net believed it had a cast iron limit to the number of accounts it would allow onto the service.This was not the case.

The spokesman said people would pick up a CD from Tempo and give it to friends and family, pushing the number of users well past the planned 50,000 mark and overwhelmed the network. The spokesman admitted the company hadn't considered people would use their CDs in this way.

Nick Jones, senior analyst at Jupiter Communications said the problems Screaming.net encountered illustrate the downside that many Internet entrepreneurs are ignoring. "The devil is in the detail and you have got to look after customers," he said. "If you don't, you have to expect them to be angry. It will be a good lesson for other free ISPs."

Screaming.net has now upgraded its network capacity "and we are confident the problem is now sorted," the spokesman said. He claims the billing platform will be changed by the end of the month and users have been reimbursed or given credit notes. "Every problem is sorted out," he promised.

Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of the ISPA (Internet Service Providers Association) urged users to find ISPs who are members of his organisation. "We've had a couple of complaints about Screaming.net but there is not much we can do as they are not members of ISPA," he said. "At least ISPA members provide users with a code of conduct and a complaints procedure."

Screaming.net now has 130,000 subscribers.