back to article Broadband ESSENTIAL to life, titsup ISPs must cough up - court

Home broadband isn't yet deemed a vital utility in Europe, but that hasn't stopped a German court ruling that ISPs should compensate customers who suffer from network service disruptions. The decision in the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe was made after it described the internet as an "essential" part of life, Reuters …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice idea

    Nice idea, but I'm fearful that all it'll do is put prices up. All the "unlimited broadband for 99p per decade" deals will disappear I'm sure, which is no bad thing - I wouldn't mind betting customer satisfaction is quite low with these deals, once customers find the gotchas.

  2. Ragarath

    Any service should pay you back (if paid in advance, or lower your next bill if not) if they are not providing the service you are paying them for.

    If the service is not being provided then money should be returned, and it is a pain in the rear to get them to do this even if they admit fault.

    Small outages are not bad but I anything more than a few hours should warrant a refund.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      > Any service should pay you back (if paid in advance, or lower your next bill if not) if they are not providing the

      > service you are paying them for.

      But most services are sold on the basis of 'best efforts'. That's why the Sale of Goods and Services act doesn't require them to be 'fit for the purpose'. If any of us look at the T&C for their broadband we will find at least one term stating something along the lines of 'shit happens, we aren't perfect'. So what you are paying them for is a service that sometimes goes wrong :)

      I don't believe we have yet reached the point where it is reasonable to demand 24/7/52 availability on network connections. We don't have that kind of guarantee for power delivery and we've been supplying that for over a century. Some form of compensation is due but it should be like power and 'phone - it only kicks in after several days.

      But two months is pretty ridiculous so I agree that the customer in this case should get more than just a payment refund.

    2. Radbruch1929

      Not about a refund

      This was not about a refund (court press release here: "No hay no pay" automatically applies in Germany and can not be removed by T&Cs.

      This is what I take from the press release: The court awarded additional damages on top of the refund. The court seemed to be of the opinion that having a DSL line available has a commercial value to a person, much as having available a car and being allowed to drive. Therefore, in addition to a refund, claimant was awarded the costs for a comparable DSL line according to market prices as the ISP failed to provide the line as it was obliged.

      Please note that the ISP stopped providing services due to working on its billing infrastructure. While not spelled out in the press release, apparently there was negligence involved.

      El Reg's subtitle is a bit over the top as the court did not rule about life and its necessities but who would have thought that.

      1. Annihilator
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Not about a refund

        "Therefore, in addition to a refund, claimant was awarded the costs for a comparable DSL line according to market prices as the ISP failed to provide the line as it was obliged."

        I'm confused, they gave him his money back, and the same again to go and buy a different DSL service? So they (effectively) gave him free internet? Doesn't quite stack up in that case, they've already given him the costs of a comparable DSL line - his money back.

        1. Radbruch1929

          Re: Not about a refund

          Yes, that seems to be the idea. Think about first in terms of a car accident: The guilty party pays for the repairs. But you still could not use the car that you invested good money in. Therefore, you are short the possibility to use the car and are awarded damages for that.

          Here, the customer invested money in having a DSL line but was not provided the benefits. So he is not only short the fees paid to the ISP but he also lost his economic advantage of using that DSL line and is compensated for that.

          This makes sense if you consider that the ISP needed to have acted negligently and that in the alternative, the customer could have claimed higher damages by using for example wireless internet. He would then have received the wireless internet fees minus the fees for the DSL line. This sum seemed to have been higher than the damages now awarded in this case and so the court seemed to have decided that the ISP should not be privileged by the customer's foregoing of the wireless broadband internet access by not having to pay.

          Please note that the verdict apparently is not published yet and that all information only comes from the press release and further hearsay.

      2. Blitterbug

        Re: El Reg's subtitle is a bit over the top...

        A bit over the top? I refuse to believe it. I come here for the cold, hard facts, and I'll have no comical monkeyshines with my news, thank you very much.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Small outages are not bad but I anything more than a few hours should warrant a refund."

      I work for an ISP and we do refund anyone who requests money back for when the service has been down... However, we only refund what you've been charged, we don't compensate. In practice when your monthly broadband fee is say £20 and your service was down for a few hours, this equates to the refund being measured in pence. Not saying it's morally right, I don't make the rules I just work there :P

      1. Whitter

        Fair usage: you can't download constantly for 1 month, so unbiased time division is not realistic.

        But as you charge in monthly units, you should refund in monthly units.

        Set a triggering threshold loss-per-day (e.g. 2 hours) and/or loss per month (e.g. more than 2 days per month) to get the whole thing rolling. Companies can then compete on the packages they offer to customers: if the ISP doesn't believe its own reliability hype, the package will soon show that.

  3. Annihilator

    Consumer SLAs

    Not sure about the rest of the ISPs, but mine offers my money back for 5 days of outage.

    "Compensation" is a tricky word. In contract terms, it's liquidated damages, but generally you have to show that any costs incurred by the plaintive were reasonable and expected. On a consumer-level ISP, it's hard to show that any financial loss could be incurred.

  4. James 100

    At the very least, there should be a pro rata refund: if I pay £30/month (i.e. £1/day) for broadband, and it's out of order for 3 days, I should get a £3 credit/refund, since I haven't actually received the service on those days.

    Back when I was getting FTTC installed, BT screwed up and failed to install first time, then failed to show up for the second appointment. When making the original appointment, it was emphasised to me that if *I* failed to be there, I'd be charged £85+VAT ... apparently, though, BT failing to show up doesn't oblige them to pay me, though it really should do.

    I wouldn't be at all troubled by this wiping out the bargain-bucket "ISPs", cutting every corner known to man; the world would be a better place without them, particularly the draconian traffic limits, shaping and port blocks with massive oversubscription.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, I'm guessing that Sky and Virgin won't be doing a lot of .de business any time soon?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anon as I'm an ISP phone monkey

    I hate it when people make the "I'm losing business" or "this is costing me money" arguments. If you're income relies upon a £10 connection, you are doing something wrong. If you haven't got done sort of backup or SLA to ensure service... Why are you risking your livelihood on it?

    1. ArmanX


      Just because something is cheap, doesn't mean it's not important.

      A few years ago, a utility vehicle damaged a telephone line. I was a little upset that I couldn't get to the Internet, but my neighbors were very worried - one was an elderly man who had a 'life alert' monitor which would call 911 if it detected a heart problem, and the other neighbor has just invested in a security system which relied on the phone line to dial out in case of a break-in.

      Both relied on a very cheap solution - a $15/mo phone line. However, the line was repaired almost immediately, partially due to pressure from my neighbors; had the phone line not been replaced, the phone company would have been held responsible for any injury or damages that resulted from either device not being able to call out.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Conversely...

        That's a nonsense though isn't it? If your life or security depends on a phone line working, telcos offer packages with a much faster response to failures.

        You can't opt for the cheapest package and then try and shame your telco into providing better service because of your specific needs - they're just as likely to decline to offer you service if you try that. I can't think of any legal situation where a telco is responsible for material harm if they repair the line within their stated terms and conditions that these people presumably signed up to willingly?

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Because for example...

      I am a small business and I cant afford an expensive 24/7 circuit.

      I am a non business user and I need the internet to pay bills, transfer money from / to my bank and I live a long way from the town.

      I am disabled.

      I am paying my ISP for this service and therefore I am paying for your wages.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Because for example...

        In the U.S.

        You are violating the terms of service for home connections if you use that connection for commercial use. You cannot expect premium level service on the cheap.

        You can pay bills via post - even Netflix. Most banks also offer a free bill pay service if you've lost your connection.

        You need to get a cell based alert/emergency system. Most states and the Federal Govt will gladly provide a grant for this.

        You are hilarious. If you're on the cheap connection you aren't paying more than 1/1000th of anyone's wages so about 1000th of their time/interest is about all you deserve with that attitude.

        My first tech job was phone tech support and "big spenders" who were intentionally cheating are the most annoying.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Because for example...

        >Business use of residential/consumer broadband service

        This matter was well covered in the recent discussion of article "GREEDY SKY ADMITS: WE CRIPPLED BROADBAND WITH TOO MANY USERS" ( )

        Basically it seems that only Sky explicitly disallow commercial and business usage. (See thread starting )

        However, as pointed out by others the SLA you get on a residential contract is minimal. If your line is important to you then you have two choices:

        1. Upgrade to a Business Broadband for Home workers/ small businesses package, which isn't that much more than some residential deals - and if you are in business you'll be able to expense it, reducing the actual price slightly.

        2. Stay with a residential contract but invest in backup, like a mobile broadband dongle etc. that works for your location. (actually I would advise doing this even if you go for business broadband, as I've found that things tend to fail just when you actually need to use then and out-of-normal-business-hours.)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Because for example...

        Sorry, but boo fucking hoo. If you want better service then pay for it.

        Same as cars, holidays, houses, everything else in life. The more you pay the better it is. If you're paying no more than 33p per day for your internet access considering the importance you place on it, maybe you need to rethink its worth and pay more money for a more reliable connection?

        Personally my broadband costs me £10 a month and I'm happy with that. I also have internet access through my mobile if the broadband goes down and there's an emergency. That's my backup and it's just for personal use. If you're a small business / need it for bill paying / are disabled (I am, no word of a lie) then HAVE A BACKUP or STFU.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "...If you're income relies upon a £10 connection, you are doing something wrong..."

      You do realise that you're and you are both mean the same thing [namely "you are"], don't you? Good. Now read your sentence again. Still make sense?

      1. Don Jefe

        You do realize that there is no excuse for asinine pedantry such as yours. If you have nothing better to say than to comment on spelling and grammar then do not say anything at all. Your kind have grown boring.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In a residential location, you usually cannot an SLA or a dedicated line, yet broadband companies happily sell "business" packages which have the same 50:1 ratio or worse and provide no SLA.

      It's a legitimate argument. The best people can do is buy a second form of connection, like having both fibre optic and an ADSL line, but sods law says both will go at once when infrastructure is damaged.

  7. Pie

    Thinking of wiring smoke detectors to cut the internet

    Would get a much faster response time in my household than the annoying alarm sound...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The second you can argue that there is no other way to do something official than to do it online...

    ...then the same applies in the UK and I look forward to BT showering me with cash.

    Tax Returns are getting close to this stage.

  9. Gordan

    So based on reliabily record to date...

    ... Virgin Media is screwed?

    1. Richard Cartledge

      Re: So based on reliabily record to date...

      Fair play to VM, they settled my modest claim (which some may say was vexatious and trifling) and court fee immediately - about 5 years ago when I raised a claim with the small claims court this was mainly for having to call their paid-for number from a mobile and time wasted being given 'the runaround'..

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Any service should pay you back (if paid in advance, or lower your next bill if not) if they are not providing the

    > service you are paying them for."

    someone needs to tell the train companies that

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: @Ragarath

      >someone needs to tell the train companies that

      Obviously not a session ticket user...

      Session tickets are available in weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual. However, only monthly and above automatically get credited. Hint, the best value session tickets are those for dec, jan & feb...

      1. billse10

        Re: @Ragarath

        no, not a season ticket user - but that shouldn't matter anyway.

        i don't see any reason why non-season ticket users should not get compensation when train companies cant get their acts together. My usual route is on South Eastern, and they have one of the best scams ever - claiming to offer repayments on delays, but only offering credit against future journeys (so, not repayment) and only if delay more than 30 mins (so, not if delayed).

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: @Ragarath

          >not a season ticket holder

          If you are a regular user then you should look at these. On my usual route it is cheaper to buy a weekly season than 2 peak returns, and if I'm going to be making 4 trips in a month then a monthly.

          >reason why non-season ticket users should not get compensation

          non-season ticket holders can get compensation, only as you point out it is generally quite onerous - firstly for the train delay to qualify and then trying to locate the guard (something I frequently failed to achieve) to mark your ticket that you actually were on the train that was delayed etc. and thats before you've filled out any forms. Once I discovered there was no such requirement with season tickets, plus you got compensation for those days your train ran okay but the rest of the day was a total waste and they automatically gave you the payment, it became a no brainer.

          >only offering credit against future journeys

          Yes that seems to be the deal on weekly season tickets, whereas monthly and above it's a credit to the card used to buy the ticket - not a discount off your next purchase so effectively it is compensation to you the passenger and not a refund, which keeps it simple with respect to expenses.

  11. John Geddes

    When will Ofcom accept Broadband as Essential?

    The problem in many parts of the UK is that we have a monopoly provider of telecoms circuits, and their licence was written in the early 1980's before home data was on the horizon for anything beyond hobbyist use (and then only by dialup modem).

    While Government and commerce are increasingly migrating their services onto an Internet-only basis (most job applications, university applications, many travel reservations and confirmations just for starters) - so the regulator Ofcom still treats the provision of a data service to homes as an optional extra, which can be repaired as slowly as it suits BT to do so. Our village lost electricity due to a substation failure and a team worked 24/7 to restore service. A few weeks later, an exchange fault took a dozen or so Broadband users out of service: repair action couldn't be countenanced until their homes had been visited by office-hours-only engineers, with appointments at least a week away.

    Ofcom's explanation of why this is OK: "... despite its popularity, broadband is not regarded as an essential service, i.e. there is no risk to safety of life and consumers living conditions are not affected detrimentally by them losing their broadband service."

    Is anyone game to help me come up with a "No 10" petition that government shouldn't extend use of the internet as a means of interaction with citizens until it has modified the BT licence to make Broadband an Essential service that is to be repaired as quickly as electricity supplies?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: When will Ofcom accept Broadband as Essential?

      I'd guess they probably won't for quite a long time given that;

      -Less than 70% of homes have broadband, so 'essential' would be hard to argue.

      -People can achieve the same end with mobile devices - so why is home broadband essential?

      -You can get on-line at a local library.

      Why would you only want BT to come under this 'essential' definition and not Virgin or other ISPs? Are you saying that broadband is only essential if the wire to your house breaks, but if Virgin's co-ax or your ISP's kit in the exchange breaks that broadband isn't then essential? That's a confused argument.

      Be careful what you wish for - if you want universal 24/7 repair on broadband, expect a universal doubling of everyone's monthly bill. What's wrong with the system today where people who want fast response and guaranteed uptime can have it if they pay for it?

      Final point - the licence you refer to hasn't existed for many years. Operators no longer need to be licensed to offer telecoms services.

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