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Customers Sue Internet Service Provider For Failing To Provide Promised Broadband Speeds

Customers of Frontier Communications have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Internet service provider (ISP) for allegedly failing to provide the broadband connection speeds promised. The Charleston Gazette reported:

"Customers also complained about frequent Internet outages... according to the lawsuit filed last week in Lincoln County Circuit Court. Frontier advertised a service called, "High-speed Internet Max" which provides speeds of up to 12 megabits per second. But the company "throttled" back Internet speeds, particularly in rural areas, without properly notifying customers. Some customers were receiving speeds below one megabit per second, but paying for the faster service, the suit alleges."

Some customers claim the ISP didn't provide speeds anywhere near what was promised. A spokesperson for the ISP said:

"Although we cannot guarantee Internet speeds due to numerous factors, such as traffic on the Internet and the capabilities of a customer's computer, Frontier tested each plaintiff's line and found that in all cases the service met or exceeded the "up to" broadband speeds to which they subscribed..."

Reportedly, Frontier is the the only ISP is parts of West Virginia. lack of competition hurts consumers. The lawsuit also alleged that Frontier accepted $42 million in Federal stimulus money to build a high-speed network across the state, and then failed to allow competitiors to use the network as required.

It will be interesting to see what happens. The Consumerist reported:

"The lawsuit faces one huge roadblock... According to the Frontier Terms & Conditions [PDF], residential service subscribers are not only forbidden from joining together in a class action, but must each individually resolve any legal dispute with the company through mandatory binding arbitration — a process that is heavily unbalanced in favor of the business. But the plaintiffs believe they are not bound by this clause, as the only way to access the terms of service is via the Frontier website, and the company never obtains “informed written consent” from customers."

Binding arbitration means that for an unresolved problem or dispute, the customer must use the arbitration process specified. It also means that the customer has lost at least three rights: to sue, to participate in any class-action lawsuits, and to benefit from mediation. These rights probably are important to you. Bankrate published this in 2004:

"Binding arbitration, a little noticed clause in many agreements and contracts, strips consumers of their fundamental rights, including the right to sue individually or join a class-action suit if they have a problem with a company. Under binding arbitration, a consumer can be forced to pay thousands of dollars upfront to pursue a complaint, travel thousands of miles to a location of the company's choosing for the hearing, argue their case before an arbitrator who depends on the company for future business and surrender such basic legal weapons as the right to discovery and the right to appeal a decision... Labeled by the National Consumer Law Center as "astonishingly unfair and undemocratic," these clauses affect millions of consumers across the country. Corporations insert them into employment and home building contracts, in agreements for credit cards, computer software and hardware purchases, and many types of loans."

And, arbitration can cost more than a traditional court trial:

"Consumers' costs for arbitration vary widely and depend on the arbitration company, the type of dispute and the cost of the proposed remedy. The American Arbitration Association offers a streamlined process for consumer disputes that limits costs, but limits your rights too. While the American Arbitration Association is an umbrella group for arbitration companies, not all arbitration companies follow its suggested rules. Under these consumer rules, there is a filing fee of $125 if your dispute is under $10,000 and $350 if it is over that amount... However, in exchange for the low filing fees and streamlined process, you must give up some of your rights... There is no contingency in arbitration. Also, these costs don't include costs for an attorney if you want one..."

According to the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA):

"One of the alleged benefits of arbitration is that it costs less than litigation, but frequently this is not true for consumers and employees. Forced arbitration frequently costs more than taking a case to court and can cost thousands of dollars. Individuals often have to pay a large fee simply to initiate the arbitration process. If they are able to get an in-person hearing, individuals sometimes have to travel thousands of miles on their own dime to attend the arbitration. In the end, the loser (usually the individual) often pays the company’s legal fees."

The Public Citizen website lists the banks, retail stores, entertainment, online shopping, telecommunications, consumer electronics, software, nursing homes, and health care companies that include binding arbitration clauses in their contracts with customers. If this bothers you (and I hope that it does), you can take action at the NACA website.


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