January 2008
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Tiscali admits block on online poker

In a call to Tiscali Broadband technical support today I was told, in pigeon English of course:

"At peak times, between 5pm and 11pm, we block gambling sites".

In fact it’s only Playtech sites I’ve been having trouble with.  That’s the iPoker network (home to major European operators like Blue Square, Bet365 and Paddy Power) and also their casino product that’s off limits.  Others seem to be working OK.

There have been no such issues with my cable internet, so I could confidently deflect their arguments that it must be either me or the site I’m trying to connect to that had the problem.

I’m quite fortunate to only use have Tiscali as a backup internet provider (relying on the net to work from home this seemed like a good idea after too many daytime cable blackouts last year, so I picked the cheapest ADSL option). 

However, the revelation that an ISP that I pay to – gosh – provide internet service only gives me access to certain parts of the net at their discretion came just a few minutes after the same person had told me emphatically, "no sir we do not block anything".

"You block BitTorrent though, don’t you", I enquired, knowing this to be the case.

"No. We. Do. Not. Block. Anything".  She spoke to me in the same patronisingly slow way that I’d been reduced to using myself in order to be understood.

We’d already been through the rigmarole of trying to unearth my connection problem, despite me not actually having one.  Is the router switched on?  Is my PC switched on?  Answer yes to both of these and they take their first stab at telling you it must all be your fault.  No – I said I’m connected!

How many lights are on the router?  Well, not only do you not know what router I have, the number of lights will depend on how many network cables are plugged into it, so how the hell does that tell you anything?

Apparently, if a light is flashing it means you don’t have a reliable connection (which is your fault, obviously) and not that data is being sent over the corresponding port, as I’d mistakenly believed for years.

Can I replace my microfilters in case they’re broken?  Oh yes, sure.  That question a master stroke in call avoidance, encouraging anyone who called from a landline to hang up by making them unplug their phone!  Assuming, of course, that they actually have a spare microfilter – I can’t imagine many would.

"It’s not the router.  It’s not the microfilter.  Because! I’m! Already! Connected!"

I was only putting myself through all this because I just wasn’t sure if it was a blanket ban, a side-effect of their recent cock up that blocked iTunes, or because I’d actually made their shitlist that I was denied access to some online gambling via Tiscali.

I’m aware of their fair usage policy, under which the very highest bandwidth consumers are throttled during peak hours.  Peak hours, here, are defined as 6pm to 11pm.  Not 5pm to 11pm like they said on the phone.  Certainly not 4pm to midnight, which is when I’m actually blocked from gambling with this ISP.

I really wouldn’t be surprised if I have been flaged as an unfair user.  After all, I do download a fair few TV shows onto a PC in the living room (and I use Tiscali for this so it doesn’t slow down my connection for work).  It’s only the same shows you’d actually get on TV, except this way I can often get them a little earlier – and in high definition.  Although I have a Virgin Media V+ box with high-def output, the sum total of their HD content is one channel (BBC HD), which is only on for about 4 hours a day anyway.

I’d already noticed that it’s virtually impossible to use BitTorrent in the evening, but this really doesn’t matter much to me.  I will just stick in whatever shows I want to download and let it do it’s stuff whenever.  Usually everything is there the next day.

Under the fair usage policy, you get three strikes before you’re out.  (1) Please reduce your usage.  (2) Pretty please, with a cherry on top, reduce your usage.  (3) Fuck you, now try surfing at teatime you little piece of shit.  I’ve never had a single warning.

But now we know it’s a blanket ban.  Online gambling, apparently, uses more of the network than other services and other customers could be affected by my degenerate activities.  "Suppose there’s a file that another customer really wants to download, it could be really important to them and they can’t do it", was the brilliant example.

It must not be that important to me, however, if I’m playing online poker for real money and I’m disconnected mid-hand (clearly, this would never happen during working hours though…) or I’ve already bought into a tournament for this evening and then can’t log in to take my seat.

In fact it’s been an online casino that actually mattered to me this week.  I have a £300 signup bonus that needs £8000 cycling through it on blackjack within 2 weeks or I’ll forfeit it.  Expected value: £250.  It’ll be a struggle if I can’t ever play before midnight.

After 35 minutes on the phone, I asked to speak to a supervisor, was put on hold, turned on speakerphone and got on with something else while I naively waited for somebody that doesn’t actually exist to pick up the call.  Fortunately I used to find a geographic number so it was included in my mobile phone minutes, because this is when I eventually gave up waiting:

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