Freeserve mounts attack on ‘wild claims’ by AOL

Freeserve has accused arch-rival AOL of “peddling wild and extravagant claims”, as the battle to be the UK’s number one Internet service provider (ISP) hots up again.

Freeserve chief executive John Pluthero slammed AOL, while announcing his own company’s “strengthened position” as market leader.

He says: “Given that AOL has been sanctioned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about misleading claims made in its advertising, perhaps it should come as no surprise that AOL is once again peddling wild and extravagant claims.”

Upping the ante in what has until now been a war of words, Freeserve says it has filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the body governing US stock markets.

Freeserve alleges that a recent press release by AOL’s owner, AOL Time Warner, misled investors by claiming that AOL was the leading ISP in the UK, with 1.5 million members.

Freeserve believes the statement, made in the context of AOL Time Warner’s preliminary results for 2001, is misleading investors “to a material degree”. A Freeserve spokeswoman adds: “Without significant verification, this presents a distorted picture of AOL’s position in the UK.”

Meanwhile, Freeserve is claiming “renewed momentum” in subscriber growth. Registered accounts were up by 13 per cent during 2001 to 2.3 million, it says. This would give it about 50 per cent more subscribers than AOL’s reported 1.5 million. Freeserve also notes a marked increase in the number of customers opting for unmetered Internet access, now almost one-third of the total. This was largely driven by the new £12.99 AnyTime package, says the company.

AOL was unavailable for comment as Marketing Week went to press.

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