HughesNet: The Good, the Bad, and the Horribly Frustrating
Jun 2, 2007
Once upon a time there was an internet service provider called Direcway. I discovered them when we decided to switch our satellite TV company, and since I was tired of the slowness of dial-up I decided to check them out. After about a year, they changed their name to HughesNet.
HughesNet provides satellite internet service. This means that there is no telephone line necessary for you to connect to the internet; instead, there is a special modem that receives the satellite signal. This does mean that the computer hooked to the modem cannot be moved from room to room, as it needs to be attached to the satellite cable. Satellite internet is much faster than dial up, and similar in speed to DSL. Weather conditions can affect satellite internet service, however, so that is something to keep in mind before you decide to go with satellite. For example, if you get a lot of snow (like we do) you can plan on having to go outside and brush the snow off the satellite dish during heavy snowfall.
Levels of Service and Pricing Plans
There are three levels of service that you can subscribe to when you join HughesNet; Home, Pro, and ProPlus.
This level provides for maximum upload speeds of 128 kbps, maximum download speeds of up to 700 kbps, five email accounts, and a download threshold of 200 MB. Cost: $59.99 per month.
This level provides for maximum upload speeds of up to 200 kbps, maximum download speeds of up to 1 Mbps, five email accounts, and a download threshold of 375 MB. Cost: $69.99 per month.
This level provides for maximum upload speeds of up to 200 kbps, maxiumum download speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps, five email accounts, and a download threshold of 425 MB. Cost: $79.99 per month.
Installation can generally be obtained for about $300 if you shop around to various installers.
Quality of Internet Service
For the most part, when the system is working correctly the speed is excellent, much better than dial-up. For the first approximately two years I have had this service, I have been very happy with the quality of internet experience I received.
Then they implemented their new "Fair Access Policy" and everything went downhill. More on that later.
First, I will say that every time I contacted customer support they were helpful and friendly. There are some definite downsides to contacting customer service, however.
I was always outsourced to India when I called. And there was not a single time when the person spoke good enough English for me to understand what they were saying. Each time I called it was due to a problem with my service. At the bottom level of customer assistance, they would take me through a process that I soon memorized; switching settings on my computer, re-downloading the HughesNet software, changing other settings. And each time this would mess my computer up worse.
So they would send me to the next level of customer service, which was also outsourced to some foreign country with people who did not speak English. Again they would put me through the same steps, and again my computer would be messed up even worse than before.
Finally, I would end up with the "highest level of troubleshooting" and thankfully, they were located here in the US and spoke English. Every time they helped me un-do what the previous levels of customer service had done, and correctly diagnosed the problem. (One of these times the problem was actually with the main satellite being down and had nothing to do with my individual service!)
Another note: don't call customer service unless you have several hours of time available to deal with the problem. In general you can plan to be on hold for about an hour before the first person even comes on the telephone, and another two or three hours before you reach the troubleshooters who can actually help you.
Every customer service person I talked to was friendly, though, and seemed to be trying very hard to help.
New Fair Access Policy
Now, when the implemented this new policy almost two months ago, they supposedly raised the download thresholds for each plan. For example, the Home plan, which I currently have, went from 175 MB to 200 MB. A higher threshold would seem to indicate better service. We would have occasional slowdowns before the implementation of this policy if the kids downloaded music or did something similar when they were online.
After they implemented the new policy, which was supposed to increase the download threshold: and we were put into forced slowdown for more days than not. Every time my daughter goes to MySpace, we end up in forced slowdown for 24 hours. Forced slowdown is like five times SLOWER than dial-up. It can take a half hour to load one web page. Talk about frustrating!
Download threshold is basically the amount of data that can be downloaded in a 24 hour period. If all I do is read and rate Epinions, I use between 8 and 10 MB per hour. Add in my kids who use MSN Messenger and MySpace, and the download threshold is rapidly overshot. I am still not understanding how the download threshold could go from 175 MB in 24 hours (when we had great service) to 200 MB in 24 hours with the end result of really awful and much worse service.
I monitored our usage for about four weeks, and we were in forced slowdown more than we were in regular service status. (Monitoring usage is simple through the website, but everything is in Eastern Time. For someone in Pacific time it makes it difficult to adjust usage; for example, if I knew what we used last hour we could adjust this hour. Doesn't work that way being three hours behind.
Besides, at $59.99 per month I expect to get reasonable internet service that I can depend on. At this point, that is definitely not the case.
My personal opinion is that they are trying to force customers to upgrade to another plan. I contacted customer service (via their online chat function this time because I was not in the mood to be on the phone for four hours) and they eventually said they couldn't help me. I have to call the "upgrade" line to talk about upgrades. I am terrified this means I will be outsourced through India and end up with a person who doesn't speak English who upgrades me to the highest plan.
What I want is a free month at the Pro level to see if it resolves the problem. If it does, I will reluctantly pay $69.99 per month for reliable service because it would be a pain to go through the process of switching to someone else. If it does not solve the problem, though, I will find another internet provider. At this rate dial-up is faster, more reliable, and MUCH cheaper. And there are other satellite internet companies out there.
Good, fast service when you are not in "forced slowdown" mode.
Five email accounts, handy when there is more than one computer user in the household.
Automatic billing out of my checking account so I don't have to worry about paying the bill by hand.
Nicely designed web-site that is very user friendly and can answer most basic questions.
"Forced Slowdown" periods when anyone does anything pretty much other than read email or go to a couple web sites per hour.
Monthly cost is very expensive, even for the lowest level of service.
Customer support questions result in outsourcing through foreign countries who can't help with the problem, mess up your system even worse, and don't speak English.
Weather seriously impacts any satellite service. Plan to brush off the dish if it is snowing heavily. (This is not a problem specific to HughesNet, just general information for any satellite service at all.
At this point in time, I would not recommend HughesNet to my worse enemy. They are frankly expensive and unreliable. In no way, shape, or form are they worth the money I am paying them. One time my service was down for an entire month - which I still paid for - and they did not offer any credit. The service was down because the main satellite was down, not because of any end-user problem. I had to sign up for dial-up service until they fixed the problem, which added another $25 a month to my internet bill.
It is frustrating to think that I used to be a very happy user of this service. Three months ago I would have written a glowing review about them and recommended it to everyone. Now they are worse than dial-up for basic home users that have several members of the family who use the internet on a daily basis.
I am planning to call the upgrade number on my next day off; they are not open on the weekends apparently. If my opinion of this service changes, I will update the review. For now though, I advise everyone to stay away from HughesNet.
Thanks to Joubert for adding this so quickly to the database.