Looking at my December credit card bill I noticed an unexpected $38.40 charge from Pacific Internet (aka PacNet). I had signed up with an ISP known as Zip way back in 1995 and thought I'd closed the account several years ago but I guess not. :)
Zip was probably the first affordable ISP in Sydney if not all of Australia. They offered an unlimited usage dial-up plan for $25/month starting in 1995. They had something like 16 dialup lines sharing a 64k ISDN connection. Unsurprisingly it was quite congested and it was a huge thing when they upgraded to 128kbps. That got eaten up quickly and they eventually had to install a separate 64kbps pipe just for mail.zip.com.au. Eventually they installed a 256kbps CIR frame-relay link and after that I lost track of the bandwidth upgrades.
Dialling in could be a struggle at times. IIRC they had session limits of 2 hours which might have been raised to 4 hours. Some evenings you'd have your dialler running for half an hour or an hour before you'd get on!
As an ISP Zip was very different to what we experience nowadays. They had an active set of newsgroups, in particular zip.general was full of random banter between the Zip customers. One of the founders was a fellow named John F.A.P.A.X Reid, and they ran a competition to guess that F.A.P.A.X stood for. :) I think the prize was a year's free service. They ran Xmas & birthday parties which ranged from BBQs in the park to taking over Intencity in Parramatta. There was also an IRC channel through which I met many long term friends - today a bunch of us still sit in #zip on a private server, even though none of us are Zip customers any more (if any other old timers are reading this, email me for the server address).
I have saved every piece of email sent & received since I got online in 1995 and came across this: (Kevin Dinn was one of the founders of Zip)
From: Kevin Dinn
Date: Wednesday, June 19, 1996 12:58AM
Subject: Proposal to reduce busy signals
WIth the advent of the new login script we now have the ability to collect statistics on the amount of time individual users have been on. This has allowed us to confirm a suspicion that we have had for some time - that a very small percentage of users are abusing the flat rate system and using much more resources than the average user.
We have discovered some users have been remaining connected virtually contiunously and reconnecting automatically after being disconnected by the limiter. This has had them connected for about 20 hours a day 7 days a week. This is obviously very unfair to all the rest of you users who are sticking to the Zip philosophy of using Zip only while you have useful stuff to do on it, otherwise disconnecting to let someone else have a go.
This probably explains the fact that we are now getting busy signals on our lines from mid-day sometimes even though we are currently only at a 10 to 1 user to modem ratio.
We have been trying to think of a reasonable solution to this and have come up with a proposal we would like to hear comment on. We would like to impose a time limit on the flat rate account. This limit would be massive and only affect the abusers, not the reasonable users, of the system. The number we have in mind is 150 hours a month. This equates to about 5 hours a day 7 days a week or about 8 hours a day 5 days a week. We think this is a reasonable limit and if you need more than this then you should be looking at paying for a permanent connection. By our calculations, only 30 of our current 900 users use more than this amount. After the limit was reached there would be an hourly rate charge of $2 to $3 (not determined yet).
Please let us know whether you think this is an outrageous imposition of your liberties as a flat rate account holder. As I said, the object is to reduce the busy signals for everyone by limiting the activities of a selfish minority.
Its kinda funny how many times we've seen this same situation play out since with ADSL usage plans.
I struggled with the the 150 hour usage plan but fortunately Zip introduced a $50/month unlimited plan as a beta. I seem to recall this had 8 hour session limits which were eventually removed and I managed to stay connected for a whole week once. :) The remarkable thing about that was that Windows 95 didn't crash for a whole week!
Zip eventually merged with another small ISP called World Reach to form Zip World which was in turn sold to Pacific Internet in June 1999. It seems that PI wasn't (and isn't) really interested in retail as their home plans haven't ever been competitive and I ended up signing up to Optus@Home cable in May of 2000.
It started off as an unlimited usage plan which eventually morphed into having a "NetStats" limit of 10x the average usage. i.e. if you exceeded 10x the average usage over a rolling 14 day period you'd be disconnected. I got disconnected once, paid the penalty, then eventually switched to ADSL as that became more widely available.
So anyway after almost 15 years I've finally closed my firstname.lastname@example.org account. I had a look at its webmail and the account was filled up by spam back in 2006 (it has a 60MB limit, in 2010!).
A bunch of Zipsters now run Bulletproof Networks which I believe is one of the best managed web hosts in Aus. I wonder where other Zipsters have ended up...