Frontier Sued For Leaving Broadband Users In 'Digital Dark Age'

Three West Virginia residents have sued broadband provider Frontier for allegedly delivering far slower speeds than it advertises.

“Frontier's practice of overcharging and simultaneously failing to provide the high-speed, broadband level of service it advertises has created high profits for Frontier but left West Virginia internet users in the digital dark age,” DSL users Michael Sheridan, April Morgan and Trisha Cooke allege in a potential class-action lawsuit filed last week in Lincoln County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit accuses Frontier of breaking its contract with customers and violating a West Virginia consumer protection law. “By providing consumers speeds representing only a tiny fraction of what they purchased, Frontier saves a fortune in the data it purchases from its own Internet backbone providers, while pocketing both the monthly charges it extracts from customers ... as well as the enormous public funds it received to provide these services,” the consumers assert.

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They allege that Frontier -- the only non-satellite provider for many rural state residents -- throttles West Virginia customers to 5% to 10% of advertised speeds. “Students are prevented from being able to do their homework, and rural consumers are unable to utilize the Internet in a way that gives them an equal footing with those in urban environments,” they allege.

The consumers say that Frontier advertises speeds of up to 12 Mbps for $40 a month, but that most people who purchase that tier of service receive far slower connections. Specifically, they say that only 12% of those customers receive “true broadband” -- which the Federal Communications Commission currently defines as download speeds of 4 Mbps upload speeds of 1 Mbps.

The three plaintiffs add that their home Internet connections are slower than advertised -- and slower than the FCC's definition of broadband. Cooke alleges that her Internet speed is approximately 0.5 Mbps downstream and 0.16 Mbps upstream. Morgan alleges that her connections are throttled to a maximum of around 1.5 Mbps downstream and 0.4 Mbps upstream.

Sheridan -- who previously complained about Frontier to state regulators -- says his speed was around 0.35 Mbps downstream and 0.15 Mbps upstream through 2012. He says his current speeds are faster, but still don't exceed around 3 Mbps downstream and 0.37 Mbps upstream.

A Frontier spokesperson says the company tested each plaintiff's line and found the service “met or exceeded the 'up-to' broadband speeds to which they subscribed.”

“If necessary, we are prepared to defend ourselves in court and bring the facts to light,” the spokesperson said in an email.

The consumers allege in the complaint that Frontier responded to initial complaints by telling them its terms of service require arbitration of disputes. All of the consumers allege that they weren't aware of those terms.

A similar lawsuit by a group of California customers against satellite provider HughesNet resulted in a 2011 settlement requiring HughesNet to prominently disclose that connection speeds won't always be as fast as advertised. That company also agreed to charge pro-rated early termination fees rather than a flat $400 when subscribers cancel their service before the end of their two-year contracts.

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