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Freeserve: which bit of unlimited don't you understand?

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Letter This correspondence is now closed - unless we get something else worth publishing.

From Glyn Griffin

I read the article Freeserve 'right to kick out heavy users' with interest.

I understand the points made by Messrs McPherson, Greenaway and King. They have answered Andrew Smith's question to the letter explaining how one per cent of users could account for significantly greater demand if they were "online 24 hours a day, sucking up every bit of bandwidth they could".

What appears to be have been overlooked is the likelihood that Freeserve's figures are less than accurate, and that abusers are not online 24 hours a day, sucking up every bit of bandwidth they can.

I was one of the 'abusers'. I do not intend to use this as an opportunity to bang on about how hard done by I am but I must present some facts to illustrate my so called abusive use of the service.

I have a single dial-up connection for plain and simple home use by my family. I have two PCs sharing a single dial-up connection using Windows ICS. We do not use multiple connections. We do not run servers. We do not use the service for any commercial purposes. We do not undertake heavy file transfers. We very rarely game online or use video/audio streaming. We did not use the service for an average of 17 hours per day, everyday as is claimed. Possibly around ten hours per day on average. If that is considered heavy use then so be it, but it is not in the league Freeserve alleges and is less than half that which I was promised when I signed up. It most certainly is not 24 hours a day or sucking up bandwidth.

No one can actually hog a connection for more than two hours and all are being thrown off on a two-hour rolling rotation. In that case won't the ratio of abusers connected be the same as the ratio of abusers to good guys in the queue trying to connect. As the queue gets longer the ratio of abusers drops - so the abuse is self regulating, as demand increases the number of modems used up by abusers is reduced.

There are several levels to this dispute and whatever your opinion of what is or is not 'abuse' the fact remains that this is primarily a contractual issue. I was lured into a contract as a result of advertising which very clearly and specifically sought to suggest I was entitled to connect to and use the internet for as long as I wanted, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. There is no other reasonable way to interpret Freeserve's advertising of this product.

The terms and conditions endorse that belief by specific reference to the Freeserve Time web page which is (or was, until it was recently amended) dominated by the terms 'Unlimited', 'day and night', '24 hours a day' and so on. The terms and conditions also say that you will be disconnected after two hours of use but there is no limit on the amount of times you can re-connect in any day. The terms and conditions make no mention of time constraints or bandwidth limits.

I accept they do allow for termination of the service where it is abused. But you simply cannot argue that using the service for 17, or even 24 hours a day is an abuse when the product name, its advertising, and the terms and conditions not only condone, but encourage such use in offering it as a specific selling point. Freeserve set the price, I would have paid more and am now doing so. I did not ask for a cheap service I was offered it and merely accepted the deal.

Julian King makes a valid point when he says, "if someone breaks the T&C of a cheap service then, especially if the company is subsidising this anyway, I cannot see that they have much to complain about if the company says 'enough is enough'..."

I entirely agree with the sentiment but in this case the Terms and Conditions have not been broken. Not by users anyway! Freeserve did not say 'enough is enough', they said nothing at all, they just terminated contracts.

James McPherson said, 'Can you really imagine any business plan letting one per cent of users getting that much for nothing?'.

Well, yes I can - Freeserve Unlimited Time is based on just such a plan. It's no good blaming the customer for purchasing a product based on a flawed business plan; the blame sits squarely on the shoulders of those who made the plan and offered the product. ®

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