DirecPC Users Cry Foul Over Fair-Access Policy

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A small but vocal group of DirecPC users has been
bombarding news groups with threats of a class-action lawsuit against Hughes Network
Systems, which markets the satellite-delivered high-speed Internet service.

The outcry started about six months ago, when DirecPC
instituted what it calls its "Fair Access Policy," according to Fritz
Stolzenbach, senior marketing specialist at HNS.

The FAP is a software-driven technology that monitors usage
level and that can slow down an individual user's service if that customer has shown
signs of abusing the system. Customers who upgraded to the latest version of DirecPC
software were told of the new policy when they loaded the software, Stolzenbach said.

Extraordinarily heavy use of DirecPC can tax the service
and slow down speeds for other subscribers.

"It's our obligation to protect the integrity of
the service for the vast majority of our customers," Stolzenbach said, adding that
most subscribers have never been hit by a slowdown instituted by the FAP.

"If you were to use DirecPC for surfing the Web 24
hours a day, going from site to site, the FAP wouldn't apply to you,"
Stolzenbach said. "We're talking about downloading high-bandwidth files
back-to-back."

Part of the problem, however, is that subscribers who
experience intermittent slowdowns on the Internet currently have no way of knowing whether
they've been subjected to the FAP, or if they have just visited a particularly slow
Web site.

In its next free software upgrade, due out this summer,
DirecPC will include a warning light indicating when the FAP is about to go into effect.
The company also plans to beef up customer-service efforts to help handle the higher
volume of calls that DirecPC receives as the service grows.

Some DirecPC users have told news groups that they would
switch to cable modems if they were available in their area. But Stolzenbach said that
over time, cable-delivered Internet services will also run into bandwidth problems.

"Cable modems and satellite are both shared
resources," he said. "If the cable-modem folks get their fair share of these
customers, they'll probably face the same problems." He admitted that
cable-modem throughput today is quite high, but he said that's because user volume is
still relatively low.

Stolzenbach stressed that the reasoning behind the FAP was
not to slow users down, but to protect the system for the majority of its users.

"We would just as soon have everybody flying," he
said.

In addition to single-user plans, DirecPC also offers
commercial rates for network systems.

"If you really need to download all day long, there
are packages that we'd be happy to migrate you to where you're not subject to
the Fair Access Policy," Stolzenbach said.

DirecPC utilizes two satellite transponders, and it could
lease additional transponders if bandwidth becomes a serious problem.

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