Subscribers Hold Broadband Provider Accountable for Slow Service

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Two California residents have filed a potential class-action lawsuit against satellite broadband provider HughesNet for allegedly advertising higher speeds than it delivers.

Tina Walker of Yorville and Christopher Bayless of Three Rivers allege that HughesNet promised broadband speeds of between 1 and 3 Mpbs, but actually offered speeds far slower. They also allege that the company imposes low bandwidth caps and throttles users who exceed the limits -- in some cases preventing them from getting online for days at a time.

In the lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Oakland, Hughes and Walter seek to represent approximately 80,000 California residents who have subscribed to HughesNet since 2005.

A HughesNet spokesperson said the company didn't comment on pending litigation.

Walter and Bayless live in rural areas that lack cable or DSL service. Walter says she paid $59.99 a month for a HughesNet plan that offered maximum download speeds of 700 kbps to 1.5 Mbps. After the company slowed down her connection for exceeding caps, she purchased a more expensive $119.99 "elite" plan.

"Despite these upgrades," the lawsuit alleges, "Walter continued to experience significantly slow, limited, and, at times, completely inaccessible Internet access."

Bayless says he initially subscribed to a plan providing 1.2 Mbps and later upgraded to a plan that offered up to 1.6 Mbps downstream speeds for $79.99 a month. Like Walter, he alleges that HughesNet slowed down his connection for allegedly exceeding the bandwidth cap. He then upgraded to a $179-a-month plan that promised minimum speeds of 1.2 Mbps, but his actual speed only averaged less than half of that, according to the complaint.

The subscriber agreements include language like "stated speeds not guaranteed," and "actual upload speed will likely be lower than the speed indicated during peak hours," but Bayless and Walter say that such disclaimers don't protect the company from liability.

"A reasonable consumer is legally entitled to expect that the fine print information on a seller's website or in its contracts will confirm or supplement, not contradict, the public representations made in the seller's advertising materials."

Other subscribers have long complained about HughesNet service, according to BroadbandReports.com. The company's daily caps appear to be quite low, ranging from 200 MB to 1,250 MB a day depending on service plan. Downloading one standard-definition movie requires around 2 GBs.

Tags: broadband, legal
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