Oct 31, 2013

The Wrong Way to Be a Web Host

Several years ago I wanted to setup a personal web site and a few other things. I didn't know what I needed other than access to a database, some PHP and a domain. At the time, cheaper was better and I eventually wound up selecting 1and1. They had a competitively priced shared hosting, gobs of bandwidth and included 2 free domain registrations with a hosting package. It seemed perfect for what I needed.

Fast forward several years and I am administering a virtual private Linux server that runs the backend for several apps and websites. I have long since learned and out grown the limitations of shared hosting and recently finished migrating everything off of it. The only thing left was to cancel my account with 1and1.

If you've never seen 1and1's user control panel, go have a look, it's very poorly organized and designed. Once you get to their cancellation page and cancel what you would like, they send you an email to let you know you have to call their cancellations department to confirm before your packages can be canceled. The first problem I ran into was that I couldn't get through, I called several different days at different times of the day and listened to their "your call is very important to us, please say on the line" hold messages for around 20 minutes, I didn't have the patience to wait any longer. When I finally got through, I spoke with Nora Homer. She took my info and canceled my web hosting account and informed me that it would become inactive at the end of the contract next spring. So far so good, I knew when I renewed my hosting years ago that I might have to eat the cost of it not being used towards the end of a 3 year contract to get the better up-front pricing. I then proceeded to ask Nora about the SSL certificate that was also associated with my account that would be renewing for a year right around the time I was canceling. She informed me that 1and1 never offers refunds on any of their services and that my SSL certificate would be canceled when my package was canceled in the spring. To which I responded I had not yet paid for the renewal of the certificate yet and that it wouldn't be a refund. She continued to state the same thing over and over until it was clear I wasn't going to get what I wanted out of her. I happened to remember that I paid 1and1 using a PayPal billing agreement and since they hadn't charged me yet, I could just cancel the agreement, the charge would fail, it would fail to renew and everything would be good.

A few days later I received an email from 1and1 stating "A recent payment may not have gone through due to a simple error, such as an expired credit card or incorrect settings in your PayPal account.". Ok, exactly what I wanted, but further down in the email they state "If we do not receive full payment in 7 days, our system will automatically lock your account, as is in accordance with our terms and conditions.". Big deal, I don't use or want to use my account any more anyway, but the kicker is "Unfortunately, if the balance continues to go unpaid for an extended period of time, the debt will have to be transferred to a debt collection agency and the account terminated. This results in an additional fee of $18.95, which is added to the outstanding balance when transferred to the collection agency.". Now they're going to turn my balance over to a collection agency for a service I have not used, do not want and already attempted to cancel.

The following day I called the billing department and the second option on their automated phone menu is "If you have received a message on our behalf from a collection agency please press 2". That seems like a bit of a red flag right there. I was able to get through right away to a representative who informed me that they can cancel the open invoice for the SSL certificate, but it needs to be disassociated with my hosting package first and I need to talk to the cancellation department to do that. Ok, so now I'm getting somewhere. The billing department transferred me to the cancellations department where I unsurprisingly wound up on hold until I got sick of waiting and hung up. I had to call back the following day and spend around 5 minutes on hold before speaking to Tanisha Rogers in the cancellation department. After giving her my account info and repeating what the billing department told me, she asked me to say on the line for a minute while she looked. When she came back on the line, she had canceled my certificate and the outstanding invoice, problem solved.

I couldn't believe it, no questions asked, no nothing, just done. I'm having a very hard time understanding the discrepancy in their phone support. I understand that different operators may have slightly different information or interpretations, but a repeated flat out "no 1and1 never offers refunds, you'll have to pay" to "ok it's canceled, is there anything else I can help you with" seems very strange. In the end, I'm happy I didn't have to pay their outlandish $50 for a basic SSL cert and I'm glad to be done with them. My recommendation is to steer clear.