Outsourcing

Will your Web host shut down your site when there's a payment dispute?

Your Web host might brag about the sophisticated technology used to keep uptime at the max. But will your Web host pull the plug if you have a billing dispute? Here are steps you can take to keep your site up and running.

Jessica Gallaghre’s small Maryland-based business venture went bust when her Web host abruptly took her site offline two weeks after she launched her art sales business.

“They claimed I hadn’t paid my bills,” said Gallaghre. “I had. For some reason, their records didn’t reflect it.”

Advertisement
IBM Corporation is the exclusive sponsor of TechRepublic's special series on Web Hosting. IBM's e-business Hosting gives you the freedom to customize an array of services into a solution that is shaped by your business, not ours. For more information, check out TechRepublic's Web Hosting Center, or visit IBM's e-business Hosting site

IBM Corporation is the exclusive sponsor of TechRepublic's special series on Web Hosting. IBM's e-business Hosting gives you the freedom to customize an array of services into a solution that is shaped by your business, not ours. For more information, check out TechRepublic's Web Hosting Center, or visit IBM's e-business Hosting site

Gallaghre, who is suing the Web host, said the damage had been done by the time she convinced the hosting company of its error. She lost her customers because they couldn’t access the site.

While it isn’t clear how often this problem occurs in the Web hosting industry, it is clear that you should understand payment and cancellation policies. Here are the steps you should take to avoid the problems Gallaghre experienced.

Where in the WWWorld is my Web site?
Sudden, prolonged downtime can mean online suicide to an e-commerce venture. According to Harry Wolhandler, VP of market research for ActivMedia Research, “Web sites must be constantly vigilant to be successful online…Shoppers don’t care a bit why the site goes down; they are simply prompted to buy elsewhere. While externally hosted sites rely on outside services for around-the-clock technical support, internally managed sites face the daunting challenge by themselves.”
TechRepublic is featuring a series of articles on this topic in every Republic this month. If you’d like to see what your IT colleagues are doing with Web hosting, click here.
Chris Cooke, director of sales and marketing at Maryland-based Internet services company Impact Business Solutions, said that the top three reasons for cancellation of service include:
  • Failure of payment
  • Inappropriate content
  • Spamming

Cooke admits that it can be hard to monitor the content and activities of all hosted sites. “It’s hard to keep track…There are so many accounts. A host will usually learn of inappropriate content or spamming issues if they receive an e-mail complaint.”

He said that most professional hosting companies would first issue “a lot of warnings” before canceling the account. However, customers complain that it can be difficult to contact a Web host to discuss a billing dispute.

What to do if the plug is pulled
So what do you do if your host abruptly cancels your service?

Washington, DC-based Internet lawyer Harvey Jacobs said that the first thing to do is to stop payments.

“Call the credit card company and tell them to refuse any charges from the host,” said Jacobs. “Then, go for the big guns—contact the CEO or president of the company and explain your problem. If they are unable or unwilling to resolve the issue, you need to take legal action.”

Jacobs maintains a Web site for his law office and said he has been the victim of an unwarranted service disruption. When he requested a switch from a domain name to a pointer, Jacobs claimed his Web host accidentally billed him for a new account. During the time he was trying to set the record straight, the Web host sent him notice that his service would be suspended in 72 hours.

Jacobs said he called several times to respond but was not able to contact any live assistance. His site was taken offline for three or four days. Jacobs said that when the company ultimately reloaded the site, a representative admitted that they hadn’t maintained backup for a week—so Jacobs lost a week’s worth of content.
According to an August 2000 report from ActivMedia Research, “More than $22 billion will be spent globally by businesses trying to either establish or maintain an Internet presence. This figure is a full 17 percent of the $132 billion generated by current e-commerce revenues.”
Steps to prevent problems with your Web host
Here’s more advice from people who have experienced Web hosting service disruption problems:
  1. List your own company as the administrative and technical contact. When you register a domain name, you are taking a risk if you permit your ISP to list one of its own employees as the person who authorizes a transfer of the domain name to another host.
  2. Carefully read a Web host’s acceptable use policy before you sign up. Clarify any gray areas. If you feel the policy is unfair or leaves room for excessive interpretation, negotiate changes. Otherwise, consider another hosting company.
  3. Identify a back-up hosting company. Choose a back-up host who can have you up and running in the shortest possible time. Make sure that this “second choice” will have no problems accommodating the software, codes, and CGI scripts used in your Web site.
  4. Maintain a mirror site with another host if the size of your operation justifies the cost.
  5. Maintain a checklist of steps to be taken if you need to switch to another host at short notice. Shifting to another host involves taking all the content, data, coding, and other software files and transferring them to a new computer. Depending on the complexity of your site, this can be a time-consuming and lengthy procedure, and it helps to begin the process early.
  6. Always maintain your own current back-up copy of your site. Never rely solely on your Web hosting company's promise of back up.
  7. Deal with any warning notices from your Web host immediately. Check to see whether your site violates the terms of your contract in any way. If you believe the warning has been sent by mistake, let the company know immediately.

If your site is pulled, your first priority is getting operations back online again. If your current host cannot rectify the problem, begin the transfer to your back-up host immediately. Make sure everything is running smoothly before you attempt to wrangle over legalities with the original host.
What issues have caught you by surprise while working with your Web host? Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.
0 comments

Editor's Picks