Strato and the "Unlimited Traffic" Lie

The crime of having a successful website

I signed up for webspace with Strato AG in June 2000. Owing to the sheer size of Europe's biggest web host with over 1 million hosted domain names, there was always a lot of criticism about Strato. Many customers complained and are still complaining about lacking support, faulty or missing scripts, slow domain transfers, insufficient backup measures or frequent down times. I found their service rather fair compared to what a friend told me of a certain German competitor. Except for a four-day total server failure in April 2001, I never had any trouble with Strato. Until April 23, 2002.

When I signed up in 2000, I deliberately chose Strato's Powerweb M, a package that included 150MB of webspace (later extended to 170MB) and had explicitly "unlimited traffic". As I knew EAS had about 10 gigabytes per month already back then, I was relieved that I would not have to pay for excess traffic - something that would have cost me several hundred dollars per month in any other hosting package. There were at least two dozen more big webspace providers who offered an "unlimited" hosting plan. However, they usually had clauses in their terms of service, reserving the right of throttling or even shutting down a site if it consumes too much of the server's performance. Such a clause was missing in Strato's terms of service.

With Strato behaving legally, the worst that could have happened would have been a letter like this (which I made up):

"Dear Mr. Schneider,
checking our server logs, we have found that your account consumes a considerable part of the server's resources. In compliance with our Terms of Service, 9.2, we have reserved the right to cancel your account timely without giving reasons. We are sorry that we are not longer interested in hosting your site under the current conditions. Please contact our Sales Office for an upgrade of your current hosting plan."

Even though my hosting package was explicitly advertised as including "unlimited traffic" and Strato would not have kept this promise, I would have understood the reasons behind such a termination of my contract from Strato's side. Since they have reserved the right to timely terminate the contract any time, this would not have been fair, but at least legal.


Strato's Untrue Reproaches

Strato, however, did not act complying with their own terms of service. Instead of timely ending my contract they sent me a letter, dated April 22, 2002, in which I was accused of breaching the contract. They did not even mention the very violation that should apply in my case, but gave me only a list of general reasons from which I was obviously supposed to pick the "right" one myself.

Here is the translation of the letter from April 22, 2002:

"Untimely termination of Package 515686
Dear Mr. Schneider,
Unfortunately we have discovered one of the following breaches of contract, which, in consideration of our own risk of liability, force us to terminate the contractual relationship immediately.
- Illegal content
- erotic, pornographic, extremist (in particular right-wing extremist) content
- illegal domain names
- third-party right infringements through content or domain names
- server right infringements through other use of services
- third-party right infringements through other use of services
Therefore, we hereby untimely terminate the contractual relationship between you and us, concerning the domains...
We refer to common laws and our General Terms of Service (4.2, 4.3, 6.2, 6.3, 8.2)"

Not only is the above a letter actually a breach of the contract from the part of Strato, it is also a blatant insult to an always correct and honest customer who is suddenly facing a list of unproven assertions of immoral, even criminal nature. At first, I was really afraid that a hacker may have uploaded illegal content to my website, or that someone may have denounced me for allegedly hosting content without the consent of a possible copyright owner. But neither was the account contaminated with porn movies or something like that, nor did I receive any complaint from a possible third party. The infringement Strato did not want to reveal must have been discovered (or made up) by Strato themselves.

Strato's terms of service as of April 23, 2002

Careful as I am, I sifted through their terms of service once again, especially the paragraphs 4.2, 4.3, 6.2, 6.3 and 8.2 quoted in their letter. Even if I try hard, there is no reason that would allow them to terminate my contract immediately. 4.2, pertaining to illegal content, does not apply by any means. 4.3 may be tricky, as it mentions "content that may impair the regular operation and the security of the server", but what may be dangerous about my *content*, which does not include any scripts or programs that may consume server resources at all, but only files that may be transferred through the regular HTTP protocol? And I am simply not responsible for the frequency of file transfers, especially not in an "unlimited" package. 6.2 about the third-party right infringement does not apply, as there is evidently no third party that claims any rights. The same applies to 6.3, concerning illegal domain names. Finally, 8.2 is about misuse of e-mail or other services for mass spamming which is anything but true. Someone pointed out to me that Strato may terminate free additional services within 30 days, according to 9.4, but the unlimited traffic is neither an additional service (as it is a part of the contract), nor did they stick to the time of 30 days, nor did it concern only certain services.

By all means, none of the claims mentioned in the letter from Strato is true. At first I didn't want to go as far as saying they were consciously lying to me, as it is known that the communication between the technical department (which is actually a sub-contractor) and the headquarters often does not work. Although it is anything but an excuse, the server administrator may have sent a message to the "Abuse Department", telling them that certain websites are consuming too much of the server's performance. The Abuse Department may have misunderstood the technical reasoning and may have thought of it as a incentive to terminate the contract. But it would still be a pretense. As I said, there is no excuse, even if it was no deliberate but only a careless breach of contract.


Strato's Untrue Advertising

As for Strato's true reason to terminate my contract, it is absolutely safe to say that it is because of the high traffic of 60 gigabytes per month (even if the proof may not be valid if I sue them). I know of three other webmasters who received identical letters at about the same time. The websites of all three other persons each generated a traffic of more than 60 gigabytes per month as well. This can't be a coincidence. An average website hosted with Strato or any other mass provider has a few hundred megabytes per month at most. *Very successful* websites rise as high as about one gigabyte, according to frequent statements of customers in Strato's own discussion forum. I avoided mentioning that my site had considerably more, as I didn't want to wake sleeping dogs. Anyway, if Strato sends the same letter with the same assertions to only three webmasters, and their websites are among the most traffic-consuming sites hosted there, the traffic must be the reason.

I have received an e-mail from a fourth webmaster and I have read about a fifth site whose contract was terminated with exactly the same letter as depicted above, the obvious reason being high traffic as well. These cases date from early 2003, more than eight months after the first (known) incident of this kind. Provided this information is true, it is the ultimate confirmation that Strato is knowingly cheating its customers. The company would have had lots of time to switch to a legal and decent method of getting rid of their traffic eaters, but they decided to continue pulling accusations out of thin air. This is outrageous!

Aside from the blatant breach of contract, Strato is not telling the truth in their advertising. As a matter of fact, the traffic of the Powerweb M is limited. As I said above, other ISPs pose restrictions on sites in that they reserve the right to throttle or even close them, or charge the webmaster any excess traffic. But Strato explicitly guarantees that the traffic is unlimited, without mentioning any possible restrictions. Even worse, in their support forum the Strato official responsible for the forum support perpetuates the statement that Strato would never take any actions against sites that make excessive use of the granted unlimited traffic. This is actually the worst part of the whole story. I'm not saying that the particular Strato official lies to the customers, as he may not know the actual practice of the technical and abuse/legal departments. But even if there are mix-ups within the company (which is already bad enough), the company as a whole consciously cheats the customers - even if it concerns only half a dozen out of one million.

Alas, with the comfort of a huge legal department, Strato is arrogant enough to maintain their forged assertions - as they need to get around admitting a mistake or even fraud which would damage their reputation. Unlike the small customer, they may find the smallest loophole to maintain their position, and maybe they would even go as far as "producing" one of the so far untrue reasons for the untimely termination of the contract, for instance by seeking possible third-party copyright or domain right infringements on their own. I certainly wouldn't want to risk being denounced because of that. But I still think that the unlawful and rude behavior of the company must have consequences. Instead of winning a little private victory (which wouldn't help my site as it is hosted elsewhere now), I imagine that Strato may be prohibited from advertising "free traffic", based on the evidence collected until now.

Update notice As of June 2004 (most likely a few months earlier), Strato no longer offers the Powerweb M, the so-called "unlimited traffic" package. In other words, it has taken them two years to recognize that this advertising promise was wrong. If only they would admit how they have been cheating their customers until then. I still expect at least an excuse.


Strato's Domain Napping

To complete Strato's unfair and illegal actions against me (for now), they have not approved of a domain transit of my four .de-domains yet, one month after the contract termination. As opposed to international (.com, .org etc.) domains, national German domains need the approval of the previous host until they may be transferred to another host. Until this is completed, they are in a "transit" state at the Denic. Normally, the untimely termination of a contract *must* go along with an approval of the host to give the domain free, after all they terminate the contract and they want to get rid of me. I never asked for a domain transfer, but they did. So it is not only illegal that they disable my property which I can take no advantage of as long the domains for which I'm still paying are down, but they also do this against their own explicit contract termination. If I really acted against any law, they should hurry to get rid of the administration of my domains.

The worst thing is that I always used an e-mail address under the .de primary domain hosted at Strato which is now defunct, and which I can't set up anywhere else because Strato is blocking this. My primary e-mail address is down together with my Strato account since May 2nd, 2002. All e-mails that may have been sent to me during that time are irretrievably lost - among them may have been invitations to job interviews! I used to think that my paid account was safer than the free one at GMX but I was awfully mistaken.

Strato's domain napping may be a reaction to my complaints about the bad treatment by the company. Another webmaster (who fortunately had a .net domain too just like I had the .org domains) is experiencing the same problem. Moreover, they told him that there was a domain right violation indeed concerning his site - although, like EAS too, it is strictly non-commercial and has the silent approval of the name right holder. The bad thing is that, once again, Strato is getting through with their mobster methods. If their reproaches of law violations are untrue, it may be declared a simple misunderstanding; if they block the domain transfer on purpose, it will be excused as a technical difficulty.

Update notice My .de domains are still registered with my name (although they should have been expired by now) by January 2004. Strato is still blocking them, and I can't help the impression that it's just because they want to hurt me. A recommendation to German webmasters: Never get a .de domain! You are completely dependent on the goodwill of your web host and Denic.


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