Internet service provider (ISP) Breathe.com caused controversy last week when it struck at least 500 web users off its list of free service customers because they were spending too much time on-line.
The 'Breathe Freely' service, which was introduced in April, offered up to 50,000 customers unmetered access to the internet at any time of day for life, for a one-off fee of £50.
However, two days before pulling the plug on its busiest users, Breathe.com notified around 500 customers that their level of use was putting the service "at risk", and that it was within the company's powers to terminate their access. According to Sean Gardner, chief operating officer at Breathe.com, the decision "was not taken lightly", but had proven necessary in order to protect the quality of service received by the rest of its 49,500 'Breathe Freely' subscribers. "It was stipulated in the terms and conditions of the agreement that customers would be disconnected if they used the service for more than six hours continuously, if they left their PCs connected but unattended for more than an hour, and if they used their web access for business purposes," explained Gardner.
He said that the 500 had initially been offered their £50 back as credit towards Breathe's pay-for-use service, but that the company had later decided to also offer a full cash refund. Gardner added that the site was soon to launch a new free-access service, but that this would be subscription-based.
However one disgruntled ex-customer, who vehemently denies being a 'heavy user', accused Breathe.com of "blatant misconduct" and told Freelance Informer he did not believe the company was being truthful in its explanation.
"I'm an IT contractor and like many in the industry, I rely on the internet to source work. Now, with virtually no warning, I'm without internet access and every time I contact the company in an effort to get to the bottom of this, I'm given a different story," he said. "It's incredibly frustrating, and I think others should take it as a warning before signing up for one-off subscriptions."