Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
always on, truth in advertising


Does Advertising 'Always On' Service Mean It Can Never Go Down?

from the might-be-a-stretch dept

We have no problem crying foul when companies like Comcast and Verizon market their services as "unlimited" when the fine print has many limits. However, a new lawsuit against Comcast may take a similar concept a bit too far. A customer is suing the company, claiming breach of contract because his internet connection went down, despite Comcast's marketing materials claiming the service is "always on." While Comcast does have a reputation for tremendous downtime (something I experienced myself back when I was a Comcast customer), it seems like a bit of a stretch to claim that "always on" means that the service can never go down. The difference between something like this and the "unlimited" claim, is that while service providers are pitching unlimited service, they have internal policies by choice that limit usage. However, when it comes to the network going down, that's not a policy choice, but a technical issue.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2007 @ 7:49pm

    Network outage can masquerade as limits

    Depends on how they define outage. What if they just decide to turn your connection off when you hit your "limits". I guess there has to be some transparency in what they call an outage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Griffon, 5 Dec 2007 @ 8:45pm

    depends right

    It was comcasts choice to take me down for a week + during business hours, to upgrade their network for voip in the sunnyvale area. I had to call every day for a credit too. Frankly this kind of behavior deserves a suite IMO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SekShunAte, 5 Dec 2007 @ 9:01pm

    if you pay for 100% connection

    shouldn't they at least pro-rate if downtime exceeds an amount of time? When Cox first went to the bi directional service, I was the first to sign up. I was 3 blocks from their main POP. We were down as much as 1/2 of a day per week for almost a month. Could not get any refund for the service whatsoever. This wouldn't matter much in one 15 minute outage every few months. But I do agree that we shouldn't have to pay for services we couldn't use up to a point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2007 @ 9:45pm

    The specific phrase "always on" has never meant 100% uptime. It usually refers to an aspect of the connection which contrasts against dialup, when you had to maintain activity over the connection to keep it, or after an hour (or less) of idle time the server would turn it off.

    The term is outdated and Comcast should reword their literature, although I don't think that validates the suit. Schwartz should rather be requesting a partial refund for service unfulfilled. Then again, if huge corporations are allowed to bring huge frivolous suits, individuals should be, too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Doe, 5 Dec 2007 @ 10:00pm

    Not a bad idea. I'm getting tired of Comcast. Just last night, my connection was going SLOW. I guess that traffic shaping was doing its magic. But I never had problems like this when the co. was still Time Warner. Sigh* I seriously think they should comp us for the down time. Just last month I had an 24hour outage.

    Silly me. I did away with the copper phone line for voip so no 56k.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Dec 2007 @ 12:07am

    You say that "when it comes to the network going down, that's not a policy choice, but a technical issue", however this can in some circumstances not be accurate. If an ISP chooses to route all its traffic via a drunk carrier pigeon who always sleeps in and gets lost but fortunately is happily paid by the ISP in beer nuts, then that's their policy choice and one with results they'd naturally expect (and, no doubt, have allowed for according to a degree of internal "acceptability"). Redundancy, reliability, et cetera are part of that policy choice, and a resultant "technical issue" can often be the result of that choice - not a "bad choice", at least from their perspective, in that they're anticipated (and calculated into the cost of customer dissatisfaction, etc.).

    So, if you're going to make those choices, but sell a customer an "Always on" service that you have some awareness may actually be down for or interrupted for a couple of weeks due a technical issue caused and anticipated by policy choices you've made, well, maybe Mr. Schwartz has a point (if not a case according to his Agreement) about them choosing to use the words "Always on" in their literature.

    It's not too far a stretch to say that this is similar to the "unlimited". If you accept that when Comcast say "Always on" they don't really mean that it's...well, always on, well by extension they can argue that "unlimited" means "you won't find the limits via reasonable internet behaviour".

    ~sigh~ I should have just said "Clearly, Comcast suck" and been done with it. It just pisses me off when companies try to redefine words and vandalise the language with "Weasel Words" that either don't mean what they say, or mean the exact opposite. If someone wants to use their weasel words against them, more power to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Dec 2007 @ 8:52am

    Don't write checks you can't cover.

    They shouldn't promise what they can't deliver. What if I write a check for more than I can technically cover because I don't have that much in the bank? Same principle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John, 6 Dec 2007 @ 3:59pm

    Like 99% uptime

    This is like the issue of web hosting companies saying that they provide "99% uptime", yet go down a few times a month. This has happened to me a few times with my hosting company and the last time it happened, their entire servers were down for over 13 hours.

    Now, sure, you can say that 13 hours out of 24 hours x 30 days in a month could still fall under their "99% uptime" claim, but it points out a major flaw in their technology. They rely on an "upstream provider" (I presume only one provider), and when this upstream provider goes down, EVERYONE on the hosting company's servers goes down, including their own site.

    So, the question is why doesn't the hosting company have a backup plan? How come they only rely on one upstream provider, and when that provider goes down, all their customers are screwed?
    To me, that sounds like a technical policy, as in "The upstream provider doesn't go down very often, there's no need to add redundancy. Customers can be without their websites for a few hours when, I mean, if, it happens."

    If the hosting company does this a few times, the person can always take their business elsewhere. But if someone like Comcast does the same thing, what can you do? Switch to another cable company? In many places, there are no other cable companies. You could switch to Sprint or DSL *if* that service if even offered in your area.
    So, basically, it's either "put up with the downtime or go back to dialup".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Howard, 6 Dec 2007 @ 6:56pm

    Let's go back to the days of the 14.4 modem dialup

    We could always go back to the days of dialing up on a 14.4 modem. I'm sure some of us remember those days fondly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Coaster, 8 Dec 2007 @ 9:17am

    I hope he researched it

    I hope he is correct in that the downtime was caused by comcast, and not a router issue or something on his end. Does this mean we can sue for bottlenecked bandwith in the evenings, too?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.