Courts to hear DSL users' complaints

By Michael Martin, Network World |  Business

Upstart DSL providers such as Covad Communications Co. and NorthPoint Communications Group Inc. aren't the only DSL companies with problems. The regional Bell operating companies may be adding new DSL customers at a dizzying rate, but they're clearly not satisfying all their clientele, as evidenced by a lawsuit filed against Verizon Communications Inc. this month.

Verizon became the latest RBOC to be slapped with a class action lawsuit, when disgruntled DSL users filed suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Dissatisfied DSL customers previously sued SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp.

The Verizon lawsuit was filed on behalf of all purchasers of the Verizon Online and Verizon DSL Access Service by Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, a Washington, D.C., law firm. It alleges that Verizon is knowingly adding more customers -- around 3,000 each day, according to the suit -- than its network can support.

The suit also claims Verizon doesn't deliver on its promises of high-speed Internet access without interruptions, other than those required for scheduled maintenance. Verizon users have experienced delays in accessing the 'Net and in obtaining technical service, the suit says.

Verizon spokesman Larry Plumb says the company cannot comment on active litigation, but he acknowledges Verizon's DSL rollout has experienced glitches.

"This is a new industry that has sophisticated technology and is seeing incredible growth and incredible stress," he says. "Our DSL customer base grew more than 600% last year. All the major providers are seeing some problems."

The suit does not seek specific monetary damages, but Cohen, Milstein partner Gary Mason said in a statement that Verizon customers should be compensated for poor service, and the company should not be allowed to add new customers until it resolves its current service problems.

Like Verizon, SBC is facing a class action suit. Filed last August, the suit alleges SBC defrauded DSL users by limiting speeds to 128K instead of a promised 384K bit/sec.

Adam Guglielmo, an analyst with consultancy TeleChoice Inc., doesn't believe the suits are a sign that there's anything seriously wrong with DSL.

"It's a new technology," he says. "This is growing pains. I think it's natural there are some problems."

One of the problems, Guglielmo says, is because DSL is still relatively new, field personnel may not completely understand the technology. DSL service is improving over time, he says.

"If you look at the number of complaints this year, they're probably down over last year," Guglielmo says.

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