German court rules Internet 'essential,' allows claims against providers
Jan 25, 2013 (Stars and Stripes - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- Consumers in Germany whose Internet service has not lived up to the contract with their provider could be eligible for compensation after Federal Supreme Court judges ruled that Internet access is an "essential" part of life.
Germany's Federal Supreme Court said in a news release that, since most German citizens use the Web daily, "the Internet has become a medium which shapes the way of life of the population decisively. Thus, a disruption [in Internet service] will have a significant effect in [on] daily life."
In its ruling Thursday, the court also said that the Internet increasingly has replaced other media such as magazines and television as a way to get information.
"Moreover," the press release states, [the Internet] "will be used more and more for the initiation of trades, completion of contracts ... and the fulfillment of obligations under public law."
The court ruled in the case of a man who was cut off from the Internet when his provider made a mistake while changing the man's contract. The man did not have Internet or phone access from December 2008 to February 2009. The news release said the plaintiff asked for 50 euros per day in compensation.
In a lower court ruling in Koblenz, judges awarded the man a total of 457.50 euros since he was not able to use his phone, but did not include money for the Internet downtime. The man appealed to Germany's Federal Supreme Court.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said a customer who is able to use a cell phone to access the web during the time of his Internet disruption at home cannot be granted full compensation.
Dietlind Weiland, spokeswoman for Germany's Federal Supreme Court, told Stars and Stripes that the court did not set a maximum amount a plaintiff can receive. She said that the Supreme Court turned the case back to the court in Koblenz to rule on the plaintiff's compensation.
When asked if there will be a minimum period of outage before a claim can be made, Weiland said that this would be a matter of rational choice.
If an individual is paying 40 euros a month and his internet went down for two hours, she said, it would not even be worth the "postal charges" for the letter to send to the company.
Weiland also said that customers should first contact their provider and let them know that they will seek compensation.
She also said that there was no possibility for an appeal of the Supreme Court's ruling.
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