Open letter to iBurst

31 July 2009

Iterations: the modem, my other self and the missing debit order found

A friend remembered my previous nic at MyADSL and I have been rooting around in those old pseudonymic posts of mine. It’s quite funny how things can turn out.

But then it struck me that the (UTD) modem’s after-life reiterates the central starting point of my gripe: that I gave notice, my account was closed, with no debt at the end of December.

I managed to sell the modem only in late February 2007, two months after my account was closed. iBurst blocks modems when the account assigned to the modem is still in arrears. So, if someone closes an account, but is in arrears, that person won’t have a working modem to sell. The modem buyer normally requests the modem’s ID number from the seller and first checks with iBurst that the modem has been cleared before buying it.

X, who bought my modem, indeed followed this procedure, confirmed that no money was owed on the modem and came to collect the modem from my house. I never heard from him again. I.e. the modem was in working order in both senses of the word. It had been cleared by iBurst; the original account had no arrears.

In the early evening two days ago (29 July), I finally received a proper explanation about the glitch that has followed me like a hound from hell. In a telephone conversation, Jannie van Zyl (iBurst CEO) told me that iBurst records show a returned debit order for my account. It’s a simple explanation, and the arithmetic adds up. Why could no one tell me this back in 2007?

The problem, though, is that my records do not show a returned debit. I had sufficient funds, the debit ran. And it was not returned.

This is cause for anxiety. What happened to that money? Is it possible that somewhere in cyberspace this money has been siphoned off? On which side? What is the electronic system used between iBurst and banks (in my case Nedbank)? Is it secure?

Furthermore, I notice that a few days before the unsuspectedly high debit order ran, I did not have enough funds in my account to cover that debit order. There was enough to cover the month-to-month subscription for my notice period, but certainly not for a debit in the region of R4 800.00.

After my notice, and after that debit, I went to my Nedbank branch to make sure that iBurst would have no further access to my account – I went to close the monthly debit order. I cannot remember the specifics, but the Nedbank representative told me that because of the payment system that iBurst was using, I could not cancel the debit orders; it was up to iBurst to stop them from their side. (Does anyone have information or insight into this? I understand that iBurst customers with other banks have had no problems cancelling debit orders.)

I have not gone through my account with any forensic detail, but as far as I can remember, I was not debited by iBurst again following December 2006. But the whole billing and accounting system, for iBurst specifically, and online agreements in general, opens up scary possibilities.

First, it was ridiculously easy to open the iBurst account. The agreement to the debit order happens online between the customer and iBurst and you consent to iBurst debiting your account for fixed and agreed amounts. iBurst then has the power to debit your account, to which you have agreed. In other words, your consent to the agreement depends on great trust in the company’s integrity; in the narrow, technical sense, the integrity of their accounting systems, but also in the broader meaning of that word.

But in the case of Nedbank as per my experience (perhaps it’s different now, 3 years on), you cannot claim that power back. In the case of a disputation that may arise, you are at the mercy of iBurst to stop debiting your account.

Secondly, in the event of accounting errors on iBurst’s side – a not uncommon occurrence for several years now – how can you trust that your iBurst debit orders are in good hands? That errors are noticed and corrected timeously? If there is an error on their side, or on the banks’ side, who pays the penalty for returned debit orders?

Many iBurst customers complain about double billing – debit orders running twice. Could there be a problem in the software, which erroneously tags debits as returned, thus necessitating a second debit? And this glitch masks the problem, iBurst accounting can’t trace the problem and customers struggle endlessly to have their accounts reconciled? Or is the second debit a result of malfeasant hacking?

Van Zyl also asked me to fax him my bank statements for December 2006 and January 2007. Before I did so yesterday, 30 July, he called again to say that iBurst had found the missing debit order. He didn’t explain in any detail, but it seems that somewhere in the transmission between the banking software and the accounting software iBurst was using 3 years ago, the debit order was erroneously flagged.

So there’s a forensic resolution, but it is cold comfort that it took nearly 3 years to discover this glitch. What in the software triggered this contradiction? How thoroughly is software tested before implementation? Who decides on which software to use? Does iBurst have a tendering process for the provision of their administrative software?

Given that complaints about accounting problems persist, how good is the ‘new’ software they are using?

Questions remain.

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23 July 2009

WoW Gamer: Can’t raid – Can only stand on one spot

Problems with iBurst’s service to online gamers continue. Technical problems slow down the connection so that World of Warcraft gamers can do nothing more than “stand in one spot”, according to D34m0n7 (Deamon7, sic.) at the public forum, Mybroadband. According to D34m0n7, any movement in the graphically rich virtual environment – which includes other online gamers in simultaneous action in the same environment – clearly taxes the iBurst infrastructure because it leads to the South African gamer being disconnected from the internet and thus from the game:

[I]f you try raid you DC [disconnect] and get kicked from the raid group which gets you kicked from the leading PvE [Player vs Environment] guild on the realm…. (D34m0n7, MyBroadBand, 23 July 2009, 03:44 PM)*

The upshot is that a South African gamer that gets disconnected frequently is at a big disadvantage. Progress in the game (improving your character’s skills in battle and a range of other abilities) depends on experience in those skills. Being kicked off raiding parties result, ultimately, in a player’s abilities stagnating and equipment subsequently degrading from lack of use. And so they have to start over to get back to the level they may have spent many hours on previously gaining.

Constant activity is optimal because characters need to remain at peak to defend themselves and, hopefully, also win PvP (Player versus Player) battles.*

In addition to being disadvantaged in the virtual arena of the game, the gamer must still pay a subscription or will already have paid through pre-paid cards to gain access to the World of Warcraft servers. This upfront cost, with pre-paid cards ranging from R270 to R300 for 60 days’ access, cannot be recuperated if the gamer is unable to play because of connection problems via iBurst. On top of this is also the monthly payment for an internet service to iBurst, a service that many people get primarily to play online games.

There is also a social cost involved. Gamers typically befriend each other via the game and may eventually meet up and become real friends. But there is also social pleasure in the online friendships that form themselves: people share an interest (the game), and start hanging out in chatrooms when they’re not playing to discuss past campaigns or strategise for their next raid or even just to chew fat. Being frequently disconnected then has effects on this social side of online gaming as well. Where friends have connections through a different ISP and have been gaming, the disconnected gamer will feel left out when next people meet in a chatroom to discuss a recent raid.

The costs then multiply as the gamer sees his or her friends achieving and increasing their skills and abilities – growing and developing their characters – while the disconnected gamer’s own character or avatar stagnates and their weapons and other equipment degrade.

iBurst has been running a thread at MyBroadBand on the problems experienced by these gamers. The most recent one started on 10 July and asks gamers to post technical details of their connections so that iBurst can get a real-time picture of what’s going on and thereby get technicians to resolve the issues.[Update **] Almost two weeks later, the issues appear to remain unresolved according to D34m0n7’s thread.

One other poster at MyBroadBand has provided a further perspective on this issue:

…. I see more people are moaning and groaning.

You guys have just launched your IBurst Business portal as well as planning to list on the JSE. But if these kind [of] issues don’t start getting resolved you may have an exidus [sic.] of unhappy clients on your hands and where will that assist your growth plans. (Fulmine, MyBroadBand, 23 July 2009, 04:06 PM)

Notes

* World of Warcraft is an immersive role playing game – the human player controls a character (role) in a fantasy world along the genre lines of Lord of the Rings. The immersion depends a lot on the graphic richness of the environment, as well as on the gripping adventures or quests that may occur. The player-character (P) moves around this world and has to contend with whatever the artificial intelligence of the programme/ game throws at it – whatever may lie in wait in the game world, in a cave, a tavern or placid lake, thus E for Environment. Another mode is PvP, Player versus Player, where players do battle via their avatars. The immersion is quite addictive and on a par, in the best games, with the immersion that a good novel or film offers.

As these games are graphically rich, much information is passed up and down the internet connection and it is this strain that seems to be taxing iBurst’s service to gamers.

** See first note below, by a representative from iBurst

[Update 25 July 2009]: Another player has found a workaround for his WoW problems, “using a static IP via iBurst from MTNBusiness (Verizon) last night to test if it would work. I had perfect latency between 280-420ms, no lag spikes or disconnects in 25-man raids last night. Seems to work perfectly” (Diegoa, MyBroadBand, 25 July 2009, 10.52 AM)

iBurst vs Neotel: No one owns orange

iBurst loses its claim against Neotel’s use of orange (yes, the colour) in advertising. iBurst apparently “sought to lay a general claim to the colour orange”. The Advertising Standards Authority Appeal Tribunal’s judgement implies that there is no original creative thought behind using orange as a colour, while:

iBurst’s complaint against Neotel was found not to have shown that any particular creative thought or crafting adhered to its use of the colour orange in its advertising and accordingly, iBurst could not assert that any advertising goodwill or protectable advertising property attached to its use of the colour orange.

Part of Neotel’s defense was to show that “no single advertiser could claim to own the colour orange”

Source: Sara-Jane Pluke, Moore Attorneys, at BizCommunity, 3 June 2009

20 July 2009

MyBroadband starts censoring my posts about iBurst

Briefly. The iBurst saga takes another twist. Some posts on MyBroadBand.co.za in which I have defended myself against other members criticising my posts for being too long, for being melodramatic etc. have started disappearing from the MyBroadBand Forums. Some of my defences have been in good humour, some in the spirit of the original criticism levelled against me. In one post I admit to being stupid for misreading a parody. (more…)

19 July 2009

Ethos, ego, respect: CEO’s discourse

Read it at MyBB. I’ll post the back-up here soon.

18 July 2009

In other news: iBurst blocks me on Twitter

So, @iBurst blocks me on Twitter. What confounding ignorance. Do they think I want to follow them? Do they think I’ll stop tweeting about them? That, if they close their eyes, I’ll go away?

It seems that that corporation’s whole philosophy of doing anything is just woefully inadequate and misdirected.

@iBurst, as any fule kno, you follow someone in the hope that they’ll follow you. That was my motive. Did you think I’d be hurt by being blocked? You should be following me, a critic of your company, and hopefully gain some market research.

Further anger and thoughts on iBurst…

I wrote the following post in response to a comment at MyBroadBand (formerly MyADSL), specifically to address the commentator’s points that iBurst is under new management, that new management unfortunately has to bear the brunt of past customers’ ire. Etc.

The new CEO of iBurst, Jannie van Zyl, is a long-time member there, but has now a new profile/account under his real name and as iBurst CEO. As I make clear, my irritation is not with the new CEO, although some of his responses to me, I must say, have been woefully inadequate. [See this post; top right-hand corner links to the thread.] (more…)

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