Advertising Standards Authority investigates breathe ad

'Free for life' boasted breathe.net's advertising campaign of its net access, but has the booting off of 500 customers last week proved it to be an idle boast?

Following last week's decision to boot 500 customers from the breathe.net service, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received complaints from customers who were told they were "using the service too much".

The ISP jumped aboard the unmetered bandwagon claiming users could use the free service 24 hours a day, but, after suffering bandwidth problems, cut off 500 users for doing just that.

An ASA spokesman confirmed the authority "will investigate whether breathe.net have broken their advertising codes".

"It appears," says the spokesman, "that there was a clause in the 'terms and conditions' of the 'breathe freely' service that stated if you used the service a lot, you could be taken off it."

A definition of "a lot" was not given.

Chief operating officer at breathe.net Sean Gardner says customers must accept the service had terms and conditions of use. "The service that we advertised always had terms and conditions -- you can't subscribe to the product without agreeing to them. Within them there was a clause that warned if you as an individual affect the quality of the service for others, you will be asked to leave the service".

Asked to define "excessive use", Gardner says, "we were looking to offer a 90 percent dial-up rate, but certain users were preventing us from offering anywhere near this. We did a distribution analysis for the user, and looked at the level of traffic that we needed to take off, which turned out to be 500 users. It's hard to say that 'x' hours constitutes excessive use."

Observers and users alike have condemned breathe for its actions. "This is a ridiculous situation," says Mat Hanrahan at Bloor Research. "The service that they are advertising is completely different from what they are actually offering."

Breathe's move to boot off excessive users follows LineOne's abandonment of its unmetered offering earlier this month.

One 'excessive user' argues "surely if I or any person pays for a service described as 'unlimited Internet access', then we should be entitled to use this service, regardless of whether or not we use it to its full extent". Gardner is now recommending that six hours a day constitutes maximum usage.

The ASA will determine whether or not the definition of "excessive access" is in direct conflict with the way in which the service was advertised as a 24 hour access service.

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