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If You Can Read This, You Might Just Have to Sue Someone…

Speed Limit 6.7 MBPS

How long did it take for this page to load?  Not fast enough for you?  Well you might just have a potential lawsuit on your hands.

While my cynical humor may seem funny to some and sad to others, it also has grains of truth.  In this age of digital consumer sophistication and the debate over net neutrality some consumers have taken to the Courts to enforce ISP speed and bandwidth claims.

Consumers have taken a particular perverse satisfaction out of suing the ISPs that charge them month after month.  Consumers in Houston, TX sued SBC Communications and its subsidiariesA woman in California sued Verizon.  Where class action settlements have been reached, law firms apparently have made it extraordinarily easy for affected consumers to obtain their share: see here, and here.  It’s been an accelerating issue with the “data throttling” of cell phone speeds over the last year as well.  At least one law firm has sued AT&T and appears to be actively soliciting for members of a class action.  If, as it appears, high speed means more customers and low speed means more money, you can see the dilemma.  The common thread in these consumer lawsuits is generally the speed claimed by an ISP in its advertising as opposed to the speeds actually obtained by users.

So who cares?  Potentially everyone.  The Internet is gradually getting faster, but the US isn’t necessarily keeping pace in the acceleration.  Ignoring a government interest in the economic benefits of fast Internet, there are clearly government regulatory interests in Internet speed, penetration, market saturation, and potential monopoly concerns, as well as net neutrality concerns.  Faster speed requires better infrastructure, which costs money, and neither the government nor industry seems inclined to cough it up.  Providers want to maximize profit to investors, not necessarily service to consumers, and consumers want speed, blazing speed, the cheaper the better.

To give an idea how serious data speed concerns are, ISPs aren’t above taking matters of speed and bandwidth to court either.  Take, for example, the lawsuit filed around Christmas by Cablevision against the Communications Workers of America union (CWA) as a result of allegations that CWA has been falsely telling people that data speeds for the Brooklyn borough of New York city are slower than elsewhere in the city.  This is not even the first such lawsuit – Cox sued Centurylink over claims regarding Internet speeds in Las Vegas a few years ago – and with customers, ie. money, on the line, it won’t be the last.  As with the consumer lawsuits, these cases orbit around claims made regarding the speeds others claim are obtained by users.

So how fast IS your Internet speed, REALLY?  …  Know any good lawyers?

By Dov Szego

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